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By Constance Scrafield - When the Coogan family received their donation from the Knights of Columbus ride last year, they put it to excellent use. Over the ensuing months, they bought their daughter's special nutrition, AFO leg braces and a new foldable wheelchair.
Ashlyn Coogan is one of twin girls. She is once again the focus of the Knights' annual ride.
An earlier meeting with a few of the Knights gave us more insight into the motives behind their annual “Charity Poker Ride,” set for next September 7.
The purpose of the ride is to collect money to support individual families in need. Usually, a disabled child is the focus of the story with riders “recruiting sponsors” to raise the funds.
The Knights work on many levels. Sometimes, one of them is in a position to assist a family struggling to deal with bureaucracy, sorting efficiently through the oft times unassailable red tape.
However, this meeting was to talk about the money they collect with their ride.
“It's the humanity of the family,” one of them told us. “We run into people that are really committed to their children.”
And another of them pointed out, “It's not just for the money but also that someone cares.”
The Knights prefer to give the funds to individuals rather than institutions, to have that specific involvement.
“We're just a bunch of guys who have made a commitment to the poor, the disadvantaged, to take off some of the stress,” we were told.
Ashlyn Coogan's birth was not an easy one: she did not breathe for the first 10 minutes of her life, which resulted in her receiving some radial treatments and, by eight months old, she was diagnosed with quadriplegia spastic cerebral palsy. This means she lacks muscle control due to the injury to her developing brain at birth. At that time, the doctors told her parents, Tammy and Tom Coogan, that Ashlyn's body was affected in all four limbs.
Her life also began with seizures. These stopped after five months but have begun again recently. There are several concerns for the Coogan family, which also includes Ashlyn's twin sister, Lacey, who was born without any problems. They are determined to increase Ashlyn's mobility. The aids for achieving this are not covered by OHIP even though some of her procedures are performed in a hospital.
Very important amongst these is the Botox treatment for Ashlyn's legs. It begins with an ultrasound to find what muscles they need to inject. The procedure is painful and, up to now, that pain has been muted with local anesthetic.
However, as her mother, Tammy Coogan, said in a telephone interview, “Ashlyn now understands what happens for her Botox injections. Now, she'll have to be anaesthetized. Last time, she had to have 16 injections. The effects last about six weeks.”
The benefit of the Botox is to relax Ashlyn's leg muscles so that she can stretch them and use them to walk with the absolute support of the AFO braces. Otherwise, they will curl and become quite useless. Although the Botox procedure is difficult, Tom Coogan, Ashlyn's father assured us, “Ashlyn wouldn't be able to walk without them.”
“We do this through a pediatrician,” Mrs. Coogan added. “It is almost like a trial but OHIP doesn't cover any of it.”
We were speaking over the telephone this time around rather than at their home, as we had the pleasure to do last year, because both girls are ill – Lacey with strep throat and Ashlyn with a fever that causes her to have seizures, in spite of taking anti-seizure medication. She takes two medications per day, yet still has the seizures, mostly at night.
Her new wheelchair also allows her to move herself with her hands on the wheels. Independence is vital. At school she has “made strides” with a pediatric bicycle. The Board of Education purchased this item for the school and Ashlyn can use it independently.
“We are looking for a second hand one online,' Mr. Coogan remarked. They are expensive.
Her own new wheelchair at home is “bubblegum pink,” which colour she chose herself. On one arm of it is her Vantage communication devise, a leasehold that the Coogans pay for, also with the Knights' donations to their family.
With these aids to hand, little Ashlyn is marching into grade one in September. Indeed, she is due to graduate with Lacey from Kindergarten this very week. A scholar, no matter what.
“She is beginning to learn,” said Mrs. Coogan. “She knows her alphabet.”
The Coogans have obtained a computer for Ashlyn to develop her typing skills, to enhance her communication abilities. When she was a baby, her larynx was damaged by the necessary MRI's required to follow the progress of her early growth.
With her speech thus impaired, she “doesn't make sounds easily. But she just had a computer literacy test,” her mother informed us with pride. “She did really well with just a plain old mouse.
“We're working on her typing skills,” Mrs. Coogan went on to say. “She's learning to type her name.”
Plans for the Coogan family's summer sound familiar for Canadian summer holidays: time away at cottages near the water; a day at Marineland, maybe, and, as specified by Ashlyn, a trip to the beach “with Daddy.”
Tammy Coogan said, “She loves to dig her toes in the sand.”
The Knights of Columbus Charity Poker Ride, is scheduled for Sunday, September 7, 2014, when participants will congregate at the Orangeville Curling Club to register between 8:30 and 10:00 am. A new scenic route has detailed. Funds will also be donated to other families in difficult situations.
For full information contact them on their website: www.kofc8851.ca
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