Students fund wheelchair for young girl

Caoimhe McCarty was born with encephalocele, meaning the back of her skull did not form completely. Baylor Helping Hands fundraised money to get her a new wheelchair. Photo courtesy of Baylor Helping Hands

By Madalyn Watson | Reporter

Thanks to the efforts of Baylor Helping Hands, a motorized wheelchair will be delivered to the McCarty family on Saturday, Sept. 22.

Baylor Helping Hands is a group of Baylor students who aim to spread God’s love through assisting the physically and mentally disabled in the Waco community.

Amy and Jason McCarty’s seven-year-old daughter, Caoimhe, was born with encephalocele, meaning the back of her skull did not form completely and brain tissue lies outside of the skull. This developmental issue has caused Caoimhe several other medical problems throughout her life.

“Caoimhe was born four weeks early in June of 2011, and she had brain surgery when she was four days old to have the encephalocele removed. We told her then, ‘Kid, if you get through this, then everything else is going to be smooth sailing,’” Jason McCarty said.

Caoimhe’s current wheelchair limits her and her family’s desire for an active lifestyle. Her family has been searching for access to an easily portable and lightweight motorized wheelchair that will give her more freedom and independence. However, their insurance would not cover the price.

“This one thing that Taylor [Ernst, the club’s founder,] is helping us get, insurance doesn’t buy it. [Insurance] would buy her an electrical chair but they’re like 30,000 dollars and are 3,000 pounds, and you have to have a vehicle with a ramp so that you can drive the wheelchair because there’s no way to lift it. You have to have a vehicle that’s been modified to hold this chair, and we don’t have any of that. We wanted something that would be usable, because we could get one of those, and she could drive around the backyard. And that would be it,” Amy McCarty said.

By increasing awareness of Caoimhe’s story, Baylor Helping Hands was able to raise more than enough money for the motorized wheelchair.

“[With this new wheelchair], she can have independence. She is expressing her independence so much and wants to be going and doing things. She is very motivated by movement. She doesn’t like being still and being restrained and contained in things. This will give her a hundred percent freedom to do that,” Amy McCarty said.

Huntsville senior Taylor Ernst founded the Baylor Helping Hands club his freshman year since one of his best friends, Houston senior Tony Zhang, had cerebral palsy, which made it difficult for him to navigate campus and arrive on time to his classes.

“We actually started a GoFundMe, just to help him raise money because [Zhang] couldn’t afford a scooter. It basically got to the point where he was [going to] have to leave campus because he couldn’t make any of his classes on time, so he was failing a bunch of classes. So pretty much every day he had to decide whether or not he was going to eat or go to class,” Ernst said.

Ernst created a GoFundMe account that told Zhang’s story during their freshman year and raised more money than expected to help his friend. He used the extra donations to start helping people with similar needs throughout Waco and founded Baylor Helping Hands in order to continue raising funds.

“If you give people a great cause and a place where they can take action, almost every single time, people want to do good; they just need a little bit of a push, and they need a cause. That’s kind of what we’re here for: to be that cause and be that push, to where they can really hit their full potential, to really give back,” Ernst said.

Through their Facebook and online donation page, Baylor Helping Hands has been able to fund new hearing aids, wheelchairs and other equipment and build wheelchair ramps for people who cannot access them.

With the excess of donations for Caoimhe, Ernst and the rest of the members of the club are able to begin funding necessary equipment for other people, like Caoimhe. The club is becoming increasingly tied with the community of families with children with special needs.

“The community here is growing now, and it’s actually pretty big now that people are making connections just because of that weird happenstance where I know somebody who knows somebody who could help you out, or you might want to meet them, or they have a child who has similar issues as your child. So we’ve been building that support over this whole time,” Jason McCarty said.