Boy’s family in need of a lift
Appeal Staff Writer
Nine-year-old Jesse Rojas is known to be a bit of a speed demon in the halls of Fremont Elementary School, where he has attended for three years.
“He loves coming to school,” his mom said through an interpreter. “When there’s no school, he cries. That’s how much he loves school.”
But it’s not Jesse’s electric wheelchair – that goes forward, backward, turns and makes loops – that makes life hard for him and his family, it’s that they have no van to transport it.
Jesse, who was born at 28 weeks, gets to school on a bus with a lift, but his family doesn’t have a similar lock-and-load vehicle.
On family trips, mom loads Jesse into the double-cab pickup, the family’s sole vehicle, and puts in an older non-electric wheelchair that Jesse has outgrown.
Along with them, may be Edgar, 4. Sometimes her husband, Isidoro, is with her and will help lift the wheelchair and 58-pound Jesse, who has cerebral palsy, into the truck.
The thing is the electric chair, with all its accouterments and turning capabilities, is fit just for Jesse’s needs, but it weights quite a bit.
“It feels like it weights four to five tons,” said his mom, Consuelo.
“Maybe three people can lift it,” says translator Jeanette Blanco, who is an English-as-a-second-language assistant at Fremont.
Jesse’s mom works part-time while Jesse is at school. She’s been wanting a vehicle to help her son get around for a while. Jesse knows all about it. Ask him what the family needs and he’ll tell you.
“Una van,” he’ll say.
Cerebral palsy is a disease he’s had since birth. He spent two months in a hospital in Reno immediately thereafter. The disease, which is a result of damage to the brain either during fetal development or in infancy, is one that affects muscle coordination. In Jesse’s case, it left him entirely unable to walk.
But talking is another matter.
Depending on who’s speaking to him, Jesse will respond in short answers in either Spanish or English. His mom says he uses Spanish at home and English at school. While his answers may be short, he is not without ideas. He knows exactly what he wants as far as a model of van.
“Lexus truck,” he says.
The need is not just for a van, but a van with a ramp or lift – just the way his school bus is. The electric wheelchair is key to his life.
“I think the chair enables him to be inside,” said Carolyn Aikins, Jesse’s aide at school for the past year. “He can go anywhere he wants to in it. He doesn’t have to be pushed.”
Oftentimes, when the family is unable to transport the wheelchair, they walk and Jesse wheels – sometimes to the park, sometimes to doctor’s appointments. His mom says a van could take Jesse to both of these. Jesse says a van could take him to Monster Trucks.
Even for the interview, Jesse has stayed after school and has missed the bus with the lift home. The Rojases prepare to walk and wheel the couple blocks to their house. But before leaving, Jesse, near the front office, sees someone moving around.
“See you tomorrow Denise,” he yells in to the office manager.
It’s this friendly demeanor that makes him loved around school.
“He’s great fun,” Denise DiMarzo says. “He’s outgoing. He’s smart as you can imagine. He keeps tabs on most things that go on.”
A lot of times Jesse will want to know where office staff is, like “Ms. Sullivan” the principal.
“I think everybody loves him,” DiMarzo said. “Everybody is very connected to him. He looks out for them and they look out for him. It’s a great rapport.”
Jesse was born Dec. 23, 1996.
“Most people call me ‘Christmas Baby,'” he quips.
Now the family needs another gift. Anyone who can help with a van with a ramp or lift, should call Fremont Elementary School at 283-1200 and ask to speak to Blanco.
— Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.