The students, faculty and parents of Warner Elementary School in Nicholasville are united in an effort to make a Christmas wish come true for one of their own.
Braden Petrucci, 7, asked Santa for several things, including a wheelchair van for his mother and little brother.
The school improvement committee had been looking at options for a mission for the school, then the letter to Santa was discovered, and raising enough money to get a wheelchair van for Braden and his family — about $30,000 — took the checkered flag, said Amber Bruner, Warner school psychologist.
"They rallied around it," Bruner said.
Why is a van so important for Braden? He was born 13 weeks early in 2006, shortly after his mother, Tenia Johnson, was honorably discharged from the Air Force. Her pregnancy had been diagnosed as problematic while she was in service, but there wasn't a hospital where she was stationed in Alaska.
"I was only home for a few weeks before he came," she said.
Braden spent nearly two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. At 14 days old, he experienced his first seizure and was later diagnosed with epilepsy. Also, he had a brain bleed, and while in the neonatal unit, he contracted bacterial meningitis.
A shunt inserted in his brain drains fluid because of hydroencephalitis, and he has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy.
Braden cannot walk and has very limited verbal skills. Still he knows his surroundings, his mother said, and he is a fan of WWE, basketball and NASCAR.
His immobility, however, means Johnson, a single mother with a 3-year-old toddler named Darius and a job at Baptist Neurology Center, must lift her growing son from his manual wheelchair to the car and back again whenever they travel.
And, because she drives a Toyota Corolla, she has to partially dismantle the wheelchair each time in order for it to fit in the trunk of her compact car.
She has accepted that role, even though she is 5 feet tall and Braden is 31/2 feet tall and weighs 50 pounds.
"Braden is getting older and heavier," she said. "He is almost up to my chest."
When he undergoes total hip replacement surgery in April at Shriners Hospital, he will be in a body cast for about eight weeks. Regardless of how that surgery goes, he'll be in need of a larger wheelchair as he grows.
"That is very scary for me as a mom," Johnson said. "I don't know what I'm going to do then."
Braden is a first-grader at Warner and he attends Bethel Harvest Church Day Care Center after school.
The campaign, "Wheels for Braden," began in January and has raised about $3,500 through "pass the can" activities at the East and West Jessamine high schools basketball games, and through teachers selling soup for lunch and T-shirts, Bruner said.
Also, at a recent "dine to donate" held at Firehouse Subs in Nicholasville, the campaign raised $1,000. Several other events are scheduled at additional restaurants, and Warner students and staff have paid $1 a foot for duct tape to be used to tape principal Val Gallutia to a wall next week.
"I am so thankful for them," Johnson said of the school and the campaign. "Special-needs children deserve to be able to do what typical children do."
While the goal of the campaign is that van, Bruner said, there have been corollary benefits.
"The kids are asking questions that the adults won't ask, such as why does he laugh so loud," she said, adding his laughter is loud because he doesn't know it shouldn't be. The questions give his teachers and caretakers an opportunity to talk about his medical condition and differences, she added.
"We have become a stronger-knit community because of it," she said.
Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you seems to always have that side effect.
Want to Help?
The "Wheels for Braden" campaign to raise $30,000 for a wheelchair van has a few "dine to donate" fundraising events scheduled in Nicholasville, as well as a silent auction.
Dine to Donate: Sonny's BBQ, 5-8 p.m. March 19; Zaxby's, 5-8 p.m., April 8; CiCi's Pizza, 5-8 p.m., April 23.
Silent Auction/Raffle: 5:30-7 p.m. March 12, Warner Elementary School.
Write a check: Make checks payable to Walk in the Park Ministries Inc. and send to P.O. Box 93, Keene, Ky. 40339. Put "Wheels for Braden" on the memo line. Donations are tax deductible.
Information: Call Warner Elementary School, (859) 885-3085 or visit "Wheels for Braden" on Facebook.