Camp helps local 11-year-old
ESCANABA — Eugene Fletcher is a normal 11-year-old, said his father, Mike Fletcher, during an interview Wednesday at the family’s home in rural Isabella.
He likes to sleep in, play Nintendo, and read Harry Potter adventure stories. He enjoys cheeseburgers and M & M’s.
He’s a practical joker and throws an occasional tantrum, said Mike. He also likes anything fast.
Gene, as he likes to be called, has cerebral palsy. Confined to a wheelchair since early childhood, he benefits from intense therapy he receives at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay every summer.
Bay Cliff runs a seven-week therapy camp for handicapped children and a week-long camp for handicapped adults. Gene is a “Sam’s” camper.
Bay Cliff’s buildings have names, according to Gene’s mom, Naomi Fletcher. “Shady Nook” houses the youngest campers ages five to eight. All meals take place in the “Big House.” And “Sam’s,” or unit five, is reserved for the neediest campers. Most are wheelchair-bound and require full-time care.
Gene’s condition is called cerebral palsy athetoid spasticity with mild scoliosis. The spasticity causes his muscles to be stiff. The athetoid diagnosis means palsy affects Gene’s entire body and causes difficulty with eating, speech and controlled movements.
During the school year, Gene gets 45 minutes of therapy once per week.
At Bay Cliff he receives an intense level of physical therapy that isn’t possible at home, Mike said. Therapists work with him daily. There’s a marked improvement in his motor skills and speech after the seven-week session, he said. “He even sleeps better,” Mike added.
Asked what he likes about camp, Gene said, “everything.” Camp has helped him become more independent, he said. He works hard on walking, using his right hand more and talking more clearly. He also dreams of walking some day. According to Mike, many kids have come out of Bay Cliff able to walk when they couldn’t before.
“Gene’s an awesome kid,” said Camp Director Tim Bennett during a phone interview in July. “He doesn’t let his disability get in the way of anything. He has a passion for life and lives it to the fullest.”
His father agreed.
“He likes to do things for himself,” he said.
Gene helps take the garbage out, checks the mail and even mows the lawn.
He carries a small electronic dictionary called a “Franklin” that speaks words typed into it for people to better understand him. Mike joked about how people may have to wait for his answers.
“I’m fast,” said Gene.
And he is. His wheelchair goes about 12 miles per hour. There was some disagreement between Gene and Mike whether his model could be programmed to go any faster. “I’m at the fastest now,” he said.
Mike shook his head. At school, Gene gets privileges taken away if he speeds down the halls. “That’s as fast as you’ll be going for awhile,” Mike said. Gene also has a go-cart that he rides around his property.
At Big Bay de Noc school, Gene does all his work on a laptop computer. He’s very proud of his “President’s Award for Educational Excellence” that he received for carrying a 3.5 grade point average or better for grades four through six. It’s signed by President Bush.
The youngster is also a math whiz. Where teachers allow students the use of calculators in Algebra class, Gene comes up with the answers in his head, said Mike.
“Faster than (the calculator),” added Gene.
Gene has read six of Charles Dickens’ seven Narnia books, he said, and all but one of the Harry Potters series — the one that hasn’t come out yet.
At Bay Cliff, Gene has a social life. He said he misses friends between sessions, but keeps in contact through e-mail.
Does he have a girlfriend? Gene grinned. After a minute he said, “I’m not saying.”
Mike Fletcher is very grateful for Bay Cliff. “All the staff are very loving individuals,” he said. “I can’t say enough about them.” http://www.dailypress.net/stories/articles...?articleID=3901