by Meagan Downey
Shelburne Community School kindergartener Connor Garrison will celebrate his sixth birthday on May 31. Rather than choosing between Spiderman and Diego balloons or stuffing goody bags for the party, Connor’s mother Victoria is scrambling to find enough crock pots to feed what she hopes will be 200 guests at an impromptu spaghetti dinner and dance to raise funds for a wheelchair-accessible van for her son.
Every birthday is a miracle for Connor, who weighed just 1 lb. 5 oz. when he was born at 23-weeks gestation. He had severe bleeding in his brain and many complications as a micro-preemie. “He wasn’t expected to survive the weekend,” Victoria says “but Connor is a fighter. He didn’t give up, and we’re not giving up.”
Connor has Spastic Quadriplesia Cerebral Palsy, a condition that impacts nearly every routine aspect of day-to-day life for the Garrison family. Transporting Connor is one of Victoria’s biggest challenges. She is accustomed to carrying her son and loading him in and out of his wheelchair, but as he grows older, Victoria sees time running out. She often hurts her back or falls down stairs when trying to manage something as simple as going out to the store. If she had a van with a ramp, she could simply wheel Connor into the van and include him on more family trips and outings.
Wheelchair-accessible vans are expensive – even used models range from $25,000 to $35,000 – and there aren’t many grants to go around. When Victoria found her family wasn’t eligible for any assistance programs, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She started a fundraising page, a Facebook page, and organized a series of fundraising events including a coin drop at the turn into the Shelburne Supermarket plaza on Saturday, May 25, and Connor’s birthday benefit on May 31.
To date, she’s raised just over $1,400. People tell the full-time student and single mother of three that a $25,000 goal is ambitious, but Victoria is undaunted. “It might take years to get there,” she says “but I’ve just got to keep trying.”
Victoria hopes to rally support from the Shelburne community, which she says is an amazing place to raise children. She is grateful for the compassionate care Connor receives at SCS and hopes to take Connor out to enjoy Shelburne more when she can secure funding for a van.
The van will also make trips to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for Connor’s many surgeries much easier. In June, Connor will undergo selective dorsal rhizotomy, a surgery in which the nerves that are causing severe spasticity in Connor’s legs will be targeted and destroyed. Connor has endured over 15 surgeries so far, many involving long and often painful recovery times.
Through it all though, Victoria says Connor keeps smiling.
“Connor has taught me that life is not about whether you can ride a bike or throw a ball. He loves his friends and family and he just loves living.”
To learn more about the Wheels for Connor fundraising campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/luopg8 or www.facebook.com/wheelsforconnor. To join the coin drop on May 25 or RSVP for the Spaghetti Dinner and Dance at the Hinesburg Community Alliance Church on May 31, contact Victoria Garrison at 985-3914.