Lifestyle

Luke's Wheels: Tiny tot sets giving in motion

Three-year-old Gaius Roehnelt tests out a new piece of equipment with the help of his grandfather Rod.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Three-year-old Gaius Roehnelt tests out a new piece of equipment with the help of his grandfather Rod.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Luke Buckley is only 4-years-old, but he’s already well-versed in a life of philanthropy.

Six months ago, Luke’s parents Bruce and Rhonda began “Luke’s Wheels,” a program that matches families with special needs children, like their son who has cerebral palsy, with the specialized equipment they require to keep their children mobile.

“All these people at therapy centers would see our stuff and ask about it,” Rhonda said of Luke’s gear.

The Buckleys are fortunate, she said, because their family has great insurance that supplies Luke with the proper therapeutic equipment.

“It will pick up things like standers, swings and bikes,” she said. “It provides the things that they need to keep them at home.”

In contrast, some insurance plans only pay for half, or deny requests for equipment not deemed medically necessary. Foster children and those on DSHS routinely wait a couple of years for their equipment requests, she said. By the time it does arrive, often the child has outgrown it or has different needs.

School districts are also hard-pressed for funding and can’t always provide the best equipment for special needs students in the classroom.

“We’ve felt so blessed for this stuff that we’ve been provided,” she said. “We want to help other families through the journey we’ve been through so far.”

The Buckleys plan to spread their good fortune.

As Luke outgrows his equipment, Rhonda’s making sure his pint-sized swings and standers find new homes so other children can enjoy the same benefits that her son does.

This week, Luke and Rhonda met up with 3 year-old Gaius Roehnelt, who also has cerebral palsy, and his grandparents Sylvia and Rod at Exxtra Storage Space in Oak Harbor, where Luke’s Wheels stores outgrown and donated equipment.

“Special needs equipment is so expensive that it’s nice they’ve decided to pass it along to other families,” Sylvia said.

The Roehnelts are thankful for Luke’s Wheels because their family’ insurance routinely covers just a small portion of Gaius’ equipment needs.

“A lot of times insurance won’t pay for something because it’s not a medical necessity,” she said.

But growing bodies need to move, and without the therapy bikes, scooters and swings, the kids get stuck in bed.

“The way the body works, you need things like that,” Rod said. “They need their independence and we need them to have their independence.”

Sylvia remembers the first time Gauis was able to move himself - thanks to the use of therapeutic equipment - and it brought her to tears.

“He just got this huge smile,” she said.

Luke’s Wheel’s has spawned a new community network of other families in the Echo program, therapists, and online friends, like the Roehnelts, to collect outgrown equipment and give it to others in need. Exxtra Storage Space of Oak Harbor even donated a space to house some of the larger apparatus that take up a lot of space. Although it never stays around long, Rhonda said.

“Through these connections it’s just kind of taken off,” she said. “It’s definitely not something we’re doing alone.”

The Buckleys hope “Luke’s Wheels” will touch anyone and everyone who would like to get involved with special needs support.

“We want to get kids mobile,” she said. “It’s about getting them up and out of beds and out into the community.”

“It’s learning how to dream new dreams for your family and your kids,” Rhonda said. We may not look traditional, but we’re the best resources for each other.”

For more information about Luke’s Wheels, or to make a donation, email Rhonda Buckley at 5buckleys@comcast.net.

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