People have stepped up to help an 8-year-old Mayfair boy with cerebral palsy whose wheelchair was stolen Sept. 15.
Eight-year-old Ryan Lewis has become something of a celebrity in his Mayfair neighborhood.
Strangers recognize the Star Wars fanatic and his mother when they board the bus, and he has received quite a bit of airtime on local news stations.
Ryan’s newfound fame came after a despicable and puzzling crime. Someone snatched the boy’s wheelchair Saturday, Sept. 15, from outside his house on the 4500 block of Sheffield Ave. Ryan has cerebral palsy and needs the customized chair to get around.
“You stole a wheelchair from a handicapped child that needs that wheelchair to get to school, to go shopping,” said Ryan’s mom, Meghan Aberkane. “I take him everywhere.”
However, in the days since the theft, members of the Northeast Philadelphia community and beyond have stepped up to help Ryan. A Bucks County woman drove to the family’s home and dropped off her son’s old wheelchair for Ryan to use until he can get a new one. A GoFundMe page set up for him had raised $8,285 through Tuesday morning.
Aberkane said it’s almost been a blessing in disguise for her and Ryan.
“So much good has come to us from his wheelchair being stolen,” she said. “My son now knows that everyone in this area cares about him and loves him.”
Aberkane and Ryan had just returned home from shopping when the wheelchair was stolen. Police said Monday that the incident is under investigation and no arrests have been made. Aberkane said she normally keeps the wheelchair outside because their house has two sets of steps.
The Fraternal Order of Police is planning to install a ramp outside of the property so that Ryan can more easily get in and out of his home, according to Aberkane.
National Seating & Mobility has agreed to replace Ryan’s wheelchair, but it will take the company six to nine months to deliver the new chair because it has to be customized, Aberkane said. In the meantime, Ryan is using a chair donated by Elena Barbee, of Feasterville, who heard about Ryan’s story on the news.
“We’re special-needs moms,” Aberkane said. “We all stick together.”
Aberkane said Ryan fits nicely into the chair and has been able to attend school. He goes to Widener Memorial School, which serves physically challenged students, in Logan.
As far as the money from the GoFundMe page, Aberkane said a bank account has been established in the name of Ryan and her cousin, a special education teacher in Germantown. In the wake of the scandal involving Johnny Bobbitt Jr., a homeless man now embroiled in a legal battle with a couple who set up a fundraiser for him, Aberkane said she wants to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
“I really don’t want to have anything to do with the money because it’s for my child,” she said.
Aberkane said she hopes her son uses the money to advance his education or travel outside the city.
“I hope one day that he wants to go to college and that he wants to see the world like I did,” she said.
For more information or to donate to Ryan’s cause, visit the fundraiser page by going to www.gofundme.com and search “Keep Ryan Rolling.” ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at email@example.com