As a student council member, active choir participant and student driver, Matti Rooks seems like a normal teen, but Matti’s story is far from normal. Born with a litany of birth defects and after suffering years of abuse, Matti has defied the odds to become a bullying prevention advocate and volunteer.

Born into a family with a drug-addicted mother and a sexually abusive stepfather, Matti never thought she would live a normal teenage life. Matti was born with Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia Syndrome as result of drug exposure in utero. Additionally, Matti is legally blind, hearing impaired, developed no permanent teeth, and was born with no tear ducts, no sweat glands, three fingers on each hand, two toes on each foot and a cleft palate and cleft lip.

I never thought I’d actually be alive now because of what happened.

It all began to change when Matti, at the age of 11, finally confided in a caring teacher at school following a particularly horrific abusive session at the hands of her stepfather. Matti finally divulged her mother’s continued drug abuse, the sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather and the home environment where Matti and her younger brother often went hungry and without other necessities. Matti bravely has described her early childhood. “My mom was a drug addict and often left me alone a lot with my little brother,” she wrote. “I was abused and neglected. I did not get the medical care that I needed, and I often went to bed hungry. When I was 11, I had a brain tumor removed that required three surgeries to get it all. I went into foster care right after that because my stepfather was beating me in the head while I still had bandages from my brain surgery. Then he kicked me down a flight of stairs.”
Fostered and then adopted by Patti and Deahl Rooks, Matti and her family have been a Centers for Children and Families client for the past two years. Despite a fresh start in family life, Matti still struggled with the bullying at school because of her looks. Instead of taking the cruel taunts to heart, Matti has parlayed her experiences into becoming an outspoken advocate against bullying. “The most amazing thing about her is that she never feels sorry for herself,” said adoptive mom Patti.

She could do just anything. She immediately came and changed everyone’s life. She doesn’t look at herself as having a disability.

Matti also works extensively with the homeless and uses her three fingers on each hand to knit hats for homeless shelters.
“She seems to bring out the best in everyone,” adoptive father Deahl said. “She’s our own angel, and she makes everyone smile.”
The entire family has received counseling, respite care, support and has utilized Centers for Children and Families to network with children like Matti. As a client of Centers, they have agreed to allow their story to be shared to inspire other families and children to utilize Centers’ services.