Helena Magazine

Raising Hope: Helena rallies around the Garcia family

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Written by Donald Mottern

Photo by Jeremy Raines

For the past several months a local family in Helena has turned to friends, family and the local community as they seek to raise awareness and the funds to procure a necessity. This mission has led to them discovering the extent of mutual cooperation and neighborly love as they seek help to purchase a wheelchair accessible van for their son, Oliver Garcia.

The first of their three children, Oliver was born in 2016 at only 23-weeks gestation. In those first months of his life, Oliver encountered a number of prematurity related illnesses that carried with them strong physical consequences that are often fatal.

“He was born a fighter and is still a fighter, working hard for everything he does,” said Tamaryn Garcia, Oliver’s mother. “You see, as a result of his illnesses, he sustained a PVL brain injury that resulted in extreme spastic and dystonic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.”

Quadriplegia is commonly recognized as the most severe form of cerebral palsy due to the extent and way that it affects so many of the body’s systems. Children with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy are unable to walk in any capacity and they are more likely to have multiple associated conditions, which can manifest in speech difficulties or even seizures.

With all of this taken into account, Oliver, who is unable to speak verbally and has a very limited usage of his hands, has not allowed his condition to slow him down in the slightest. He is currently in second grade and has displayed a developing mastery of his academic material. He is unimpeded in his ability to read, solve multi-step math problems and is able to express his happiness at achieving those goals.

“He has a style and smile that make him loved by all who meet him,” Tamaryn said. “He was awarded ‘Mr. Congeniality’ of his class and is truly a friend to all. He loves to dress nicely and once communicated that he likes the compliments people give him on his clothes and that when he looks good, he feels good.”

Despite Oliver’s successes, the Garcia’s have learned the unfortunate fact that, in the vast majority of cases, medical insurance will not cover home conversions or medically accessible vehicles. In current systems, such things are shockingly not considered medical necessities.

Oliver’s situation is one that will require a lifetime of attentive support and care, but is one that can be mitigated with the correct medical and mobility equipment.

Unlike normal wheelchairs, Oliver’s condition calls for the use of a tilt-in-space wheelchair, which sits him further from the ground than an average chair and allows him to recline. The design of this chair leads to extensive modifications being required on any vehicle that might attempt to transport him due to its increased height.

Because of this, the lack of a specifically modeled vehicle means that Oliver must undergo an extensive and often abrasive process of being transferred to and from a five-point harness car seat each and every time he goes somewhere outside of the Garcia home. While a deeply uncomfortable process for all involved, it is a solution that has sufficed so far.

That being said, it is an unfortunate reality that the growth of a child waits for no one, and as Oliver approaches the size limitations of his current chair, the Garcia’s are reminded of the encroaching reality that their current accommodations will need to change as Oliver grows. Both Tamaryn and his father, Ivan, are aware that there will soon come a time when they may be unable to manually lift their son into their vehicle as they do now.

“Once he outgrows it, he would be unable to sit in a booster seat with a lap belt due to the fact that he has no trunk control,” Tamaryn said. “It is also quite taxing for us, his parents, to transfer him in and out of a car seat, especially on days when there are multiple errands to run and we are getting in and out of the vehicle frequently. At the moment, his wheelchair must be lifted manually into the back of the van.”

In their search for a vehicle that can accommodate their son, the Garcia’s have found that even with great credit, payments for a speciality medical vehicle, like the one they will require, will carry monthly payments that exceed the cost of their monthly mortgage.

“It essentially boils down to a full-size wheelchair accessible van like we need being in the range of $80,000 to $100,000 for a used vehicle,” Tamaryn said. “With current interest rates, even with excellent credit, that would put our car payment around $1,400 per month. That is the cost of a mortgage. That is completely unreasonable for a family who is already trying to survive doing extra things not covered by insurance for a child with physical limitations.”

This is not a reality that the Garcia’s have freshly become accustomed to either, as they have searched for solutions and assistance for several years.

“I have met with members of the Alabama Changemakers who go to Montgomery to meet with lawmakers about such needs, and confirmed that there is no type of assistance for a child getting a vehicle unless the child is old enough to have a job,” Tamaryn said. “Then it would be considered occupational and it would be covered by some programs we have in the state.”

Faced with that overwhelming financial hurdle, they have now partnered with the nonprofit Help Hope Live in the coordination of a fundraiser to help raise the necessary funds that will allow the Garcia family to afford what most would consider an absolute necessity.

Help Hope Live also enables all donations made to this cause to be tax deductible, and ensures that the money raised will be used toward the subject of the donation. It is for those reasons that Oliver, and the Garcia family, have chosen to work with them and entrust their stewardship.

“We are so thankful for our amazing little fighter, and we appreciate any donations that you might feel led to give after reading our story,” Tamaryn said. “We thank God for all that he does, and know that he provides in all circumstances.”

So far, the fundraiser has raised a total of $3,580 of their $80,000 goal and public attention and traction of this effort has been increasing. Additionally, the Garcia family was presented with a donation of $2,000 from the organizers of Helena’s Buck Creek Festival during their on-stage presentation of donations at the annual Helena Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

“When applying to fundraise at Helena’s Buck Creek Festival, I noticed that the proceeds each year are given to different charitable organizations,” Tamaryn said. “Half-jokingly, I reached out to the contact provided online to see if there was any way to be considered for a donation. I didn’t hear anything back, so I assumed this was not a possibility, until JoAnna Harman contacted me to inform me that they were, in fact, going to give us a donation and that they would like to present it at the tree lighting ceremony.”

It was, for the Garcia family and everyone in attendance, a symbol of the strength of community and what can be accomplished when a local community rallies for one of their own.

“I was blown away that we were selected, but even more surprised that our family had been kept in mind for all these months,” Tamaryn said. “We have been absolutely amazed at the way Helena has rallied around us to offer a helping hand, and that the people who have the challenging task of organizing such a large-scale festival would go above and beyond for us. We are so grateful and feel so blessed by the people in our amazing city.”

Still short of their $80,000 goal, the Garcia family, including Oliver’s younger siblings Felix and Elis, are still out raising awareness for Oliver and the van that will not only make his current life easier, but become more and more of a necessity with each passing day.

As with all fundraising efforts, no donation is too small and any amount is appreciated as the Garcia’s move forward in their mission.

Those who wish to support Oliver, and the Garcia family, are encouraged to visit their fundraising page at Helphopelive.org/campaign/22296.

Progress and announcements can also be found on the family’s Facebook group page at Facebook.com/groups/835710041540958/?ref=share%3C%2Fp%3E.