Allegan community raising money for a young man's new wheelchair

Allegan community raising money for a young man's new wheelchair.{ } (WWMT/Jason Heeres)

An Allegan community is hoping to get a new wheelchair in time for a young man’s graduation.

Tony Carpenter, 26, has cerebral palsy, seizure disorder and dysphagia and supporters recently started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for a new manual wheelchair.

The community has raised $8,000 of the $12,000 goal. His mother, Denice Peckel, said their family is overwhelmed at how quickly the community has joined together to help her son be successful.

“He tries so hard at everything that I just know that he’ll succeed at everything he does,” said Peckel.

Tony has been a student at the Hillside Learning and Behavior Center in Allegan since he was 2-years-old. She said the center has been helping him learn how to live with his diagnosis. Tony has undergone 11 surgeries on his hands, knees, mouth and back.

“He had scoliosis so bad that his spine was growing into his lungs, so it was a life or death decision,” said Peckel.

In between surgery recovery, Tony has been learning from different programs at Hillside. Majority of his growth over the past 14 years has been lead by Patricia VanOrder, a teacher in the Young Adults Severely Cognitively Impaired (SCI) Students program at the Hillside center.

VanOrder explained her classroom is set up like an apartment where SCI students can learn social and independent skills.

“Students work on running the dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, doing laundry, cleaning up their areas just like if they’re going to live at home with their folks—they’re going to do as much work at home as they possibly can,” said VanOrder.

Most of Tony’s growth is centered around using his head and neck to maneuver a powered wheelchair on his own.

“Just to see him really mature and grow into the young man he is and every challenge we threw at him he accepted and was able to overcome it and do it and all his peers have watched that over the years,” said VanOrder. “It gives us a great feeling knowing we put the two together—the stuff we know how to do and the kids that know how to do it, we put it together and he’s our success story.”

“I don’t know that we both could have been as successful in his growing up and his education if we did not have the support from here,” said Peckel.

As independent as the powered wheelchair allows Tony to be, it’s not his primary source of mobility. That would be a manual wheelchair held together with duct tape and zip ties.

“Lately it’s been real difficult to get along with that chair. We’ve broken head rests, we’ve broken foot plates, we’ve broken tilt cables,” said Tony’s mother. “It bothers him. He gets very worried about that when things like that break down.”

Peckel said a manual wheelchair fits their home easier and is much lighter to move around. Plus, a new one will help family care for Tony more efficiently.

“The headrest is important so that he keeps his head up and aware and strengthens the muscles in his neck so he can hold his head up on his own. The custom seating in the back allows for changes in his spine since the surgery and promotes that healthy growth to keep his spine from curving more again. The seat cushion is designed to prevent him from getting sores,” said Peckel.

His mother said fundraisers at his school and online for a new manual wheelchair have touched their family.

“The support has been phenomenal,” she said after a deep sigh. “People we don’t know, people that we’ve known for years are just giving and giving and sharing and praying and it’s just overwhelming in a really good way.”

Tony will graduate from Hillside late June. With the community’s help, Peckel said she’s confident her son can graduate with more than just a new mode of mobility.

“And a smile that doesn’t quit,” said Peckel. “He always makes me proud."