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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Jason Garcia, who had his wheelchair stolen about two months ago, has a new all-terrain wheelchair.

Donated wheelchair gives local man his freedom back

For the past two months, Jason Garcia has been fundamentally confined to his home, unable to travel much farther than from his bedroom to the living room to the porch and back.

There’s a reason Garcia was so imprisoned, and neither reason is good.

Garcia, 43, was born with cerebral palsy and has never been able to walk. But 10 years ago, just before his father died, he and his father pooled what money they had and bought an all-terrain wheelchair, a sort of racing wheelchair, a model that costs more than $2,000, that Garcia, who has a husky upper body, could use to go almost anywhere.

Last year Garcia, who had lived in Colorado, came to Fort Wayne to live with his mother, who has disabilities, and he used the same chair to make it all around town and even run errands for his mother.

Then, on June 16, someone stole his wheelchair, which he had left parked next to the porch at his home on Spring Street.

“They ruined my whole summer, totally ruined my whole summer,” Garcia says. “My sister went on vacation, and I couldn’t go because I didn’t have a wheelchair. I was stuck here all summer.”

That all changed Wednesday, though.

We wrote about how lowlifes had taken his wheelchair and about how outraged his family was, how it was like stealing someone’s legs.

People responded. Strangers started coming by his house and giving Garcia and his mother money, $20 here, $20 there. Others gave much more money.

And then a guy named Jim Ash, who was in Florida and is connected with Ash Brokerage, called and said, “Ask the guy if he wants a new wheelchair. I’ll buy him one.”

Garcia, a little stunned, said “sure,” and it was just a matter of hours before someone with James Medical, which handles high-end wheelchairs like Garcia’s, was at his house, measuring him for a new chair, which had to be custom built.

It took time, longer than Garcia or his family had expected, but on Wednesday the new chair arrived at his home. When asked to make sure the chair was the right fit, he rolled the chair out onto the lawn, pulled a wheelie and spun the chair around in a circle.

Garcia had always pulled wheelies in his old chair. You have to pull a wheelie to hop a curb, but it scared the man from James Medical, so he put a seat belt on the chair.

“I took it down on Runnion Avenue,” said Garcia, delighted to be mobile again. “I had it going fast, at least 15 miles an hour.”

And the first thing he did was head out, for the first time in two months, hoping to go to Five Guys and get a hamburger.

He didn’t make it there. Coliseum Boulevard is too much of an obstacle. But he made it to Glenbrook Square and went to Red Robin.

“If it wasn’t for Ash Brokerage,” Garcia said.

After two months stuck inside, though, Garcia is a little out of shape. His arms hurt, he said. His body hurts. But he’ll get back in shape.

Meanwhile, his new chair stays in his bedroom when he’s not in it, never on the porch. “It doesn’t leave my sight.”

Garcia’s sister did take some of the money that was donated to them to buy him a bed. He had been sleeping on a used mattress on the floor since he came to Fort Wayne.

And what money was left over, he said, was donated to charity.

What charity, I asked.

Shriners, he said.

It was as good a choice as any. As a child, he spent two years in a Shriners hospital.

By the way, the creeps who stole the wheelchair brought Garcia to the attention of Crossroads, which works with people with disabilities. Friday, they installed a ramp at his house so he doesn’t have to crawl down the steps to get out in his wheelchair.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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