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Artist born without arms, legs gives Hampton students peek into her world

| Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” a graduate of Northgate School District, gives a talk to Hampton Middle School students in the school library Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” a graduate of Northgate School District, gives a talk to Hampton Middle School students in the school library Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” signs a copy of her book for the school library after speaking with Hampton Middle School students Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” signs a copy of her book for the school library after speaking with Hampton Middle School students Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” shows eighth-grader Anastasia Russ, 14, how to create 3D paper art in the school library after speaking with Hampton Middle School students Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” shows eighth-grader Anastasia Russ, 14, how to create 3D paper art in the school library after speaking with Hampton Middle School students Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” signs a copy of her book for the school library after speaking with Hampton Middle School students Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Amy Brooks, author of “Unseen Arms,” signs a copy of her book for the school library after speaking with Hampton Middle School students Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Brooks, who was born without arms and legs is an artist, author and motivational speaker.

Born with no arms or legs and abandoned by her parents, Amy Brooks is the poster child for perseverance.

“Let's face it though, just because my challenges are visible and obvious doesn't mean I'm the only one who has them,” she said.

The 33-year-old artist from Avalon spoke Tuesday to an audience of about 40 eighth-grade art students at Hampton Middle School.

Teacher Danielle Wike said she invited Brooks after reading her autobiography, “Unseen Arms.”

“I was inspired by it, and I wanted to share it with my students before the end of the year,” Wike said.

Students from elective art classes listened intently to Brooks' presentation.

Brooks was born in a Pittsburgh hospital with congenital tetraphocomelia, a rare disorder affecting all the limbs. Her mother abandoned her at birth.

She came to live with Richard and Janet Brooks of Avalon and their four children as a foster child when she was 8 days old. She soon became the fifth and final permanent member of the Brooks family.

Performing everyday tasks is a challenge for Brooks, she said, but she has learned to adapt. She scoots on the floor or uses a wheelchair. She writes by holding a pen between her head and shoulder and texts on her phone by using her lips or “tongue if I need to do it really fast,” she said.

Logic, a 9-year-old black Labrador retriever service dog, helps with other tasks. Logic has been part of the family since she was 2. The Lab fetches items from the floor, flips light switches and opens doors for Brooks.

“She's literally my little black shadow and the love of my life,” Brooks said.

Growing up, Brooks said she always did the same things as her able-bodied siblings, just a little differently. She urged the Hampton students to look beyond people's physical differences to find the intrinsic value in every person.

“Each and every one of us was created with a purpose,” she said. “We need to start seeing ourselves as one cohesive unit working with each other. … You can't have a hockey team full of forwards.”

At the end of her presentation, Brooks gave a demonstration of her favorite art form, paper tole, in which portions of a flat image are layered to create a three-dimensional appearance.

Brooks uses her mouth to cut the image out with an X-Acto knife and applies silicon glue to the layers with a toothpick. She had student volunteers Anastasia Russ and Kayla Martinez, both 14, help her at the school. The girls said Brooks' story is compelling.

“I was really impressed by all the work that she did and how she never gave up through all the difficulties she went through,” Anastasia said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-772-6364 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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