Santa Claus made an early appearance to surprise a special young man by granting his greatest Christmas wish.
Brooklet Elementary student Jason Michael Carpenter received his very first bicycle, an AmTryke, from Savannah AMBUCS at The Therapy SPOT in Statesboro on Thursday.
Seven-year-old Jason Michael, the son of Jason and Christie Carpenter, walks with the assistance of leg braces and a walker and was born with a rare disease that affects his muscular system, Charcot-Marie-Tooth, type 1E. Jason Michael is the youngest patient in the United States to be diagnosed with CMT-1E.
But the disorder didn’t stop this little boy’s dream of riding a bicycle just like his friends.
Jason Michael receives therapy at The Therapy SPOT, which stands for “Speech, Physical, and Occupational Therapy,” twice a week and aquatic therapy at Splash in the Boro once a week. Not long ago, occupational therapist Kirsten Patterson and physical therapist Katie Rich began looking into starting a local chapter of AMBUCS to serve Bulloch County and surrounding counties.
AMBUCS is a national, nonprofit service organization with the mission of creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities.
Familiar with the organization from her work in other parts of the country, Patterson, along with Rich, began the process to start a chapter here and became certified to do fittings for the adapted bicycles.
“The bike provides a therapeutic component, but it’s recreation, too,” Patterson said. “It gives an individual the chance to connect with family and friends, like everyone else.”
Each bike is specially designed to meet the needs of the individual, and the recipient must be fitted for the bicycle. The therapists spoke with Savannah AMBUCS about the possibility of Jason Michael receiving a bike and wanted to surprise him with the gift.
Jason Michael was measured, fitted and had the opportunity to try out an AmTryke in Savannah a couple of weeks ago, though the family didn’t know for sure if it would work out.
“He kept asking, ‘Can I have one?’” his mom, Christie said, and we had to tell him, “We don’t know. He’s asked for a bike ever since we left Savannah.”
And his dream came true this week.
Jason Michael thought he was going to The Therapy SPOT for a session. Once he was settled in the clinic with a therapist, Therapy SPOT owners Caroline Bowman and Lea Lanier, other staff, family, friends – and Santa – gathered outside with the bicycle and waited anxiously.
When the crowd of more than 50 people assembled, Jason Michael zoomed down the ramp with his walker, quickly cast it aside, and climbed aboard the bike. Barely able to contain his excitement, Jason Michael squirmed to take off. While Santa Claus held onto the back of the bike, a therapist strapped Jason Michael’s feet into the pedals and placed a helmet on his head.
With a quick release of the brake, Jason Michael was off, with Santa Claus following closely behind for guidance. Even though the youngster had never ridden a bike before, he rode like a pro.
Santa could only keep up for a couple of laps, and then turned the job over to a much younger assistant. The crowd heard the man in the red suit exclaim, “Brake! Left hand turn! Wait!” as Jason Michael drove out of sight.
Onlookers wiped tears from their eyes and steered clear of the new driver. Jason Michael slowed down just long enough to say he loved his new bike and looked forward to “riding down the dirt rode” when he got home, but then he was gone again for another lap.
AMBUCS bicycles and trikes are given away free to adults, children and wounded military veterans. Chapters across the country hold fundraisers and accept donations to furnish the bikes to recipients. Locally, Swim Bike Run has volunteered to assemble all of the bikes donated in Bulloch County; Jason Michael’s bike was its first venture.
Savannah AMBUCS representative Kevin Sheehan attended the presentation and said he is excited about a local Bulloch County chapter. He added, “It’s great to be a part of changing someone’s life. And this mobility can do just that.”
Want to help?
For more information about volunteering with the local AMBUCS chapter, contact The Therapy SPOT at (912) 681-7768 or email Katie or Kirsten at frontdesk@ therapyspotstatesboro.com.