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Heelan senior honored with Women of Promise award

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Folks who know Elizabeth “Libby” Brower feel she is a young woman of promise.

Now, the greater Siouxland community knows that as well.

The Bishop Heelan Catholic High School senior was honored with the first-ever Women of Promise award, during the 30th annual Women of Excellence recognition banquet, March 25, at the Sioux City Convention Center.

The event is a fundraiser for Woman Aware, a United Way of Siouxland agency that provides supportive services for individuals and families.

Libby, 17, was one of seven women who received a Women of Excellence award, which recognizes leadership, character and accomplishments.

The Women of Promise award was initiated to recognize young women, up to age 21, who demonstrate leadership among their peers.

A resident of Dakota Dunes and parishioner of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parish, Libby was nominated for the award by her high school. Janet Flanagan, Heelan’s director of annual giving, provided background on the daughter of Dr. Amy Brower and Dan Brower.

“During her young life – while growing and developing as her own person – Libby Brower has been a champion for her brother with mental and physical disabilities, discovered her own personal skills, learned to help people with special needs and developed a career path to improve the lives of others in the future,” Flanagan noted.

Libby’s brother, Joey, was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (the bubble boy disease). Libby and her twin brother, Sam, arrived when Joey was four years old. Libby’s mother recalled how quickly Joey became attached to his little sister.

“Libby has excellent communication skills and displayed them at an early age to explain to strangers about her brother’s odd behaviors or vocalizations,” recalled Dr. Amy Brower, whose specialty is medical genetics and genomics. “Libby has been a strong advocate for her brother and is now finding her voice to advocate for others with similar challenges.”

At nine months, Joey underwent a bone marrow transplant.

“My parents spent over eight months in the hospital with him as an infant,” Libby explained. “In the following years, he was diagnosed with autism as well.”

Today, 22-year-old Joey is one of the oldest living adults with SCID in the U.S., but will require lifelong care.

“During the school year and summer, Libby is the primary caregiver for Joey during afternoons when her parents are working,” Flanagan said. “She is a registered respite care worker for him, preparing meals, staying with him outside, monitoring his seizures, and giving him medications.”

Although some people might be angry that God allows an innocent to struggle with mental and physical ailments, Libby insisted her faith helps her.

“I think that anyone who has been faced with adversity in their life, especially at a young age, is tempted to be upset with the cards they have been dealt,” she acknowledged.

“However, as I have grown older, I have realized the impact my brother has had on my life,” Libby continued. “I truly believe that having a close relationship with Joey has allowed me to practice patience, understanding, and acceptance towards others with differences beyond their control.

Libby stressed her belief in the ideals Jesus preached concerning those who suffer here on earth.

“While far from easy, those who manage to ultimately rely on and trust God during times of difficulty will rejoice with him at the end of their lives,” she said. “Since I was little, I have looked forward to the day where Joey and I will both be in heaven and I will be able to have a full conversation with him, and be able to completely understand what his thoughts are.”

Libby credited the goals and standards Heelan places on their students with her drive to become more involved, especially due to the school’s new Silver Chord Program.

“In order to graduate with a silver chord at commencement, a student is required to clock in at least 15 hours of service work per year,” she said. “This program encouraged me to begin volunteering for the Sioux City Special Olympics and other various organizations. Going above and beyond the normal student expectations is strongly encouraged at Heelan.”

In addition to her volunteer activities, Libby maintains a 3.9 GPA.

“Her work for me has been of the highest quality; a look at her transcript attests to her academic standing,” said Heelan religion instructor Brendan Burchard. “However, there is more to this young lady than raw intelligence. From my observation of Libby, she possesses wonderful social skills that aren't readily found in the average high school senior. She exhibits a level of maturity, a subdued charm and confidence.”

Learning and understanding Joey’s illness is also what sparked Libby’s interest to pursue a career in psychology and health at Creighton University.

“Twenty years ago, not many babies like Joey survived their illness and treatment,” she said. “Joey is a blessing; my family and myself have been lucky to be given the gift to care for him, which helps our love for God grow, not lessen.”

In her acceptance speech, Libby thanked Women Aware “for gathering the women here tonight who have not been previously recognized on such a large scale.”

“To all the nominees here tonight: This area is a better place because you are here and through your efforts; so, on a personal level, I thank you for that,” she said.

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