Community effort leads to new wheelchair for kindergartener

Soon it will be common to see a firetruck roaming the halls of Harrison Elementary School. 

What has the appearance of a toy car is, in reality, a newly refurbished wheelchair for six-year-old Ethan who has myotonic muscular dystrophy, a muscle disease that also impact his lungs and heart. The wheelchair allows him to learn the joystick controls so that when he is older he will be able operate a power chair.

“He wasn’t supposed to live and he wasn’t supposed to talk and he wasn’t supposed to do any of the things he is doing now. So it’s like a milestone, everything is a milestone,” said Ethan’s mother Tara Jones.

On Thursday afternoon, in front of his kindergarten classmates on a sun-soaked day, Ethan re-ceived his newly refurbished wheelchair that was fixed up by a group of Cottage Grove High School seniors and delivered by South Lane County Fire and Rescue. With excited kindergarten-ers, who got to tour the firetruck, looking on, Ethan got the first chance to drive around in his new wheelchair.

“It was super exciting that he liked it because he didn’t like it last year. I was like, do you want in it and he said yeah. And the way he was moving around in it was very surprising and very exciting,” said Jones. For Jones, the firetruck holds importance and is a reminder of her father and grandfather, who have both passed away, who were both firefighters.

Last year, Ethan’s doctor ordered the specialized chair to help him learn the controls of getting around. The device, which stays at school, was used outside because there was no room inside the old Harrison and soon, it began to break down.

“Every day when we’d lift it up and bring it in and out, the  little bars were starting to lose their bolts. So he didn’t get to play in it much last year because of that,” said Harrison teacher Amy Swearengin who taught Ethan last year. Adding that the chair will, “give him more mobility and more freedom and more autonomy over where he is in the world. Because he doesn’t have a lot of autonomy over where he is.”

On a mission to get the chair repaired, Swearengin was unable to get in contact with the company that makes the chair but found the next best thing: Chris Medina.

Medina, a friend and the engineering and technology teacher at Cottage Grove High School, would be able to get the job done. Medina also teaches students robotics and how to make electric cars and he sought the help of his students to get the chair operational once more.

“The kids went through this and checked things out to see what was right with it and what was wrong with it. What we had to change and then we found that a few things had to be done to it, we did those repairs and were able to get it back in a pretty quick turnaround time,” said Medina.

A trio of senior boys from Cottage Grove High School — Oden Armstrong, William Keedy and Jackson Simmons — worked on the project to make sure it can “survive an elementary school.”

“We spent the last couple of weeks just trying to do as much as we can with it. Try to make it work as best as possible for him,” said Armstrong.

“It really puts a smile on your face to see him be able to move around freely and just have the time of his life,” added Simmons.

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