EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 31, 2009

Disabled Salem girl receives special bike

Disabled Salem girl receives special bicycle

By Jillian Jorgensen

SALEM, N.H. — Being surprised with a brand new bicycle is a special moment for any kid. But for 13-year-old Chelsea Mannion, whose cerebral palsy has made it impossible for her to ride a regular bike, the gift she received yesterday was priceless.

"It's great. She's had a tough year with surgeries and stuff, so to see her smile, it's great," said her father, Dennis Mannion.

Chelsea could not stop smiling as she rode her shiny red AmTryke therapeutic tricycle through the halls of the Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem. When her mother said it was hers to keep, Chelsea gave her a big hug.

"It's good," Chelsea said of the bike. "I can keep up with my brother."

Her parents had given her a regular, two-wheel bicycle in the past. But cerebral palsy affects motor skills and muscle strength, making it impossible for Chelsea to ride.

"We always had a tough time finding a bike that could fit her," her father said.

So when friends would ride their bikes around the dead-end street in Salem where Chelsea lives, she would have to do something else.

"On the street, she would just push a baby carriage or walk," he said.

But with her new tricycle, all that will change. Chelsea first used an AmTryke at the hospital during therapy, clinic manager Jennifer Kelley said.

"We used it as part of her therapy program, to help with her coordination and strengthen her legs," Kelley said. "It was the first time she was able to use a bike on her own."

The tricycles are provided by AMBUCS, a national service organization devoted to helping disabled people become more mobile. Chelsea's tricycle costs upward of $500.

Chelsea's mother, Lisa Mannion, said it was a perfect fit.

"She just fell in love with it," she said. "She was able to just go."

Chelsea's name was placed on a tricycle wish list in April — so long ago that her mother almost forgot about it.

"When we got the phone call, we were just ecstatic," Lisa Mannion said.

Children can get the tricycles through anonymous donations, or families can donate money to buy one for a specific child. Chelsea received her tricycle through the generosity of strangers.

Kathy Pierce, director of rehabilitation at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua, said she asked people in her department to pitch in over the holidays to raise money for a bike. When two other departments joined their effort, they wound up with more than they needed.

So they gave the first bike to the child at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center who they originally had in mind, then set out to find another child in need. They decided to pick the New Hampshire child who had been on the wish list the longest, and it was Chelsea.

"She can do a normal kid thing," Pierce said. "It's great."

Chelsea smoothly navigated her new bike during a test drive down the hospital halls.

"All the way around the loop," said Jon Greenwood, director of special projects in pediatrics at the hospital. "Are you sure you don't already have one of these?"

"You get to bring that home," Chelsea's father told her when she finished her ride.

After making sure the bike would fit in her mother's truck, Chelsea was ready to get going.

"Mom, can I bring it home now?" she asked.

"We can bring it home," her mother replied.

Greenwood said the bikes are a therapy fixture.

"To go to therapy and ride a bike is like going to the playground," he said. "Now, she gets to bring one home."

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