Gift of adaptive trike to disabled Palm Harbor boy brings family to tears

Eric Towell, 7, of Palm Harbor tries out his new adaptive tricycle as his dad, Russ, Rotary of Palm Harbor president Randy Nilsson, left, and Wheelchairs 4 Kids program coordinator Jeannie Bohn watch. Bohn’s Tarpon Springs-based organization worked with the club to provide the trike, which is not covered by insurance to the Towells.

PALM HARBOR – December is a month for giving, and not just toys, electronics and gift cards.

For one Palm Harbor family, a gift delivered less than a week before Christmas could have life-changing effects.

On Dec. 19, at Leo’s Restaurant on U.S. 19, members of the Rotary Club of Palm Harbor, in conjunction with area nonprofit Wheelchairs 4 Kids, donated a custom adaptive tricycle to Eric Towell, a 7-year-old with a genetic brain disorder who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

The trike, which was purchased through Wheelchairs 4 Kids using $1,600 in rotary donations, is designed to provide more mobility while also helping to improve leg strength, flexibility and other exercise benefits, according to the Tarpon Springs-based nonprofit’s program coordinator, Jeannie Bohn.

“Insurance won’t pay for therapy trikes, but this is one of the best ways to exercise their legs,” Bohn explained, noting they also provide wheelchair lifts for vehicles, ramps and minor home repairs, all free of charge. “We use grants and work with local charities and organizations, and we talk directly to physical therapists to find out what we need, all the details. When we received this application, we reached out to the Palm Harbor Rotary and said a kid requested a trike and we’d like to sponsor him, and that was it.”

Prior to presenting Eric and Russ with the trike, Rotary of Palm Harbor president Randy Nilsson explained how the club decided to donate the trike to the Towells.

“The board decides in November which charities to support, and we did some research and came back to vote in December,” she said. “Within 24 hours, we got an email about this young family, and it was a no-brainer. We unanimously agreed to do this.”

As a steady rain fell outside, Nilsson told the room full of Rotarians, chamber members and media, “this is really how God works. It doesn’t get much better than this at the holidays.”

Indeed, after Bohn and fellow program coordinator Erin Wilson steered the new three-wheeler into the room and presented it to Eric, Russ Towell was overcome with emotion.

“We’re very grateful … it’s very emotional,” he said as he kissed his son’s head and wiped away tears. “He doesn’t speak much – mostly he just says I love you. But I know he is happy about this.”

After Bohn and Wilson helped Russ Towell strap Eric into his new trike, the father wheeled his son around the dining room, and the joy on the young boy’s face was readily apparent.

As Russ Towell continued to kiss his son’s forehead and whisper to his boy, he spoke about how it felt to be on the receiving end of such generosity.

“You wonder about people sometimes, and then something like this happens,” he said.

“We feel the love from people daily – people really gravitate to him because they can see his spirit is full of love and happiness. This is just super nice of them and we couldn’t be more thankful,” he said.

For more information on Wheelchairs 4 Kids, visit their website at wheelchairs4kids.org.