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Trike gives boy sense of independence

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Jonah Harris was born with an opening in his back that exposed his spine. He did not have an immediate surgery in Lithuania, and got an infection that damaged his spine. He has almost no movement in his lower body, Angie Harris said.

All of the other kids in the neighborhood can ride up and down the block on their bicycles.

But until recently Jonah Harris had to watch them from the front yard.

The 6-year-old Greenwood boy was born with spina bifida. He cannot walk and doesn’t have the strength to push pedals and ride a regular bicycle.

With a special gift from the Greater Greenwood Kiwanis Club, Jonah has gotten his chance to ride a bicycle.

The specially made trike allows him to pedal by hand, and he’s been able to experience the thrill of cycling down the street and playing with other kids in his neighborhood.

“It gives him a different kind of freedom. He has his wheelchair, and he can go to wherever he wants to go. But it gives him a new activity,” said Angie Harris, Jonah’s mother. “It’s something that makes him more normal. We try not to place limits on him.”

With an unsteady wobble, Jonah started pedaling and steered his trike down the driveway. Sporting an oversized black helmet, with fluorescent green racing stripes on it, he pumped his arms and moved down the gentle incline.

Standing behind him, his parents, Angie and Doug Harris, urged him on.

“C’mon Jonah, you can pedal faster than that,” Doug Harris said. “You pedal faster than that in (physical therapy).”

The trike was crafted by Tri-Lo, a company that specializes in handcycles. Instead of handlebars the bike features a pair of hand levers that Jonah works to move the front tire. Two wheels in back support a bucket seat, complete with straps to ensure he stays secure while he’s riding.

For Jonah, getting the trike is just one more step of integrating into his new life. The blond-haired, blue-eyed boy was adopted from Lithuania in 2012. The family felt they were being called by God to take in a child in need. They prayed about it and decided to move forward with adoption.

“We thought about it and decided that if we were going to adopt we’d adopt an older child, something out of the norm that was hard to place,” Angie Harris said. “Jonah was on the waiting children’s list.”

What stood out to the family was the way his smile and bubbly personality shone through. Before he was adopted, he starred in a fundraising commercial for his orphanage, singing and dancing in his wheelchair.

“He’s a charmer. He was on the evening news, and they broadcast it many times. He loves the spotlight,” Doug Harris said.

Jonah was born with an opening in his back that exposed his spine. He did not have an immediate surgery in Lithuania and got an infection that damaged his spine. He has almost no movement in his lower body, Angie Harris said.

The family’s Greenwood home has been adapted to meet Jonah’s needs. Ramps help him get up any small steps or rises throughout the house. His room and own bathroom are on the first floor.

A roll-in shower allows him to wheel right in, and wide, long sinks were built so he can wash his hands, brush his teeth and clean his face on his own.

Jonah knew no English when he was adopted, and the Harrises could form only basic Lithuanian sentences. But Doug and Angie Harris, together with their children Celeste, 19, Addie, 15, and Josh, 9, helped make him feel comfortable in his new home.

Working with his parents and siblings, he quickly picked up on the language. In kindergarten at Southwest Elementary School, he’s become an excellent speller, Angie Harris said.

Part of the assimilation process has been interacting with other children. The trike hopefully will let him do that.

“He’s already different, and it’s hard to make friends anyway,” Angie Harris said.

The trike was purchased by the Greater Greenwood Kiwanis Club. The Harrises were unaware of the Kiwanis program until they were checking out books in the children’s area one day at the Greenwood Public Library. Anne Guthrie, a librarian and secretary of the Kiwanis Club, asked if they would be interested in a special bike for Jonah.

Because the bicycles are custom-made for each child, they cost about $1,800. That’s more than most families can afford.

So Kiwanis steps up to help. The club raises money for the project during the Greenwood Freedom Festival at the club’s annual dunk tank. Sponsors such as Walgreens, Culver’s and the Greenwood fire and police departments have donated time and money to the cause, as well.

This is the fifth adaptive bicycle given to a local child with special needs.

“As a parent, there’s nothing worse than knowing there’s something to help your child but not being able to afford it. So we thought that was an area we could help in,” said Rosemary Cunningham, president of the club. “It’s so rewarding to see them get on that bike and have that freedom.”

Jonah and the family were given the trike in July. The model had to be created with precise specifications by a company in Scotland and shipped to the Harrises when it was complete.

To get ready for it, Jonah worked on building up his arm strength during his weekly physical therapy session. In addition to working on building core strength to transfer himself from his wheelchair to his bed, bathtub and toilet, he has been learning how to pedal and steer his new bike, Doug Harris said.

Now, Jonah’s favorite activity is to go bike-riding with his brother Josh. Though he can’t always keep up with his older brother, they weave back and forth on the cul-de-sac where they live.

“They can’t play football together, they can’t do things like that,” Angie Harris said. “Josh will stay in the court, doing laps, and they get to at least be together, which is nice.”

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