Adapting to life

Chelsea Penney, left, and her son Bridger prepare for the day March 17 at their Richfield home. The Penneys are looking for help to win a contest that could give Bridger an adaptive bike.

Like most parents, Cade and Chelsea Penney’s principal hopes for their children include health, happiness and joy.

However, when their third child, Bridger, was diagnosed as being deaf, a downward spiral of health problems began announcing themselves.

“We had no idea when he was born that anything was wrong,” Chelsea said. “It all unfolded over time.”

First, came the diagnosis that Bridger couldn’t hear. Then, came the news that would irreparably alter the lives of all the members of the Penney family.

Bridger has an undiagnosed form of childhood leukodystrophy, a condition that affects how nerve cells are insulated — similar to how Parkinson’s disease affects adults.

“He doesn’t have a normal childhood,” Chelsea said. In addition to leukodystrophy, Bridger has had corrective cataract surgery, an ocular implant and is fed through a G-tube since he can’t swallow. He has also vomited every day since he was 6 months old — a problem that so far has stumped three different doctors.

In spite of the challenges and a pronouncement by doctors that he may have only months to live, Bridger, who is now 3 years old, has continued to defy the odds.

“The doctors are astounded by how well he’s doing,” Chelsea said. “He makes little bits of progress every day.” She said her hope is with enough therapy and physical activity that Bridger will continue to progress and get stronger.

The multiple conditions he faces have also taken their toll on Bridger’s cognitive development. He has the mind of an infant, but there are signs that he is advancing, Chelsea said.

“He knows now when we go to the doctor’s office,” Chelsea said. Bridger’s reaction to being in a doctor’s office is sad because it’s clear he doesn’t want to be there, but it’s also a good sign that he’s learning new things, Chelsea said.

One key to helping Bridger may lie in a contest the Penneys have entered. The Great Bike Giveaway, sponsored by the Friendship Circle, is a national contest designed to raise funds and give away adaptive bikes to children with conditions similar to Bridger’s.

“Physical activity is tied to making connections in your brain,” Chelsea said. In addition to the therapeutic benefits, the adaptive bicycle would also be the key to unlocking a little piece of normality for Bridger.

“What kid doesn’t grow up riding a bike,” Chelsea said. Adaptive bikes, which provide full support for the body and neck, cost $5,000 or more. The Penneys are currently trying to build a home that is handicap accessible, which coupled with the ever mounting medical bills and never ending doctor visits, has made it difficult to purchase specialized therapeutic equipment.

So, when they found out about the bike giveaway, it gave them hope that Bridger could be one of the 20 recipients.

The top 20 vote garnering entrants in the contest will be given a bike. The program is also a fundraiser, with the goal of eventually providing bikes to 600 children across the country, Chelsea said.

“We are just hoping that people will vote for Bridger,” Chelsea said. “It only takes three seconds, and you don’t have to donate anything.”

With more equipment and physical activity, Bridger’s opportunities to enjoy life will expand, Chelsea said.

For more information or to vote for Bridger, log onto A Facebook account is required to vote.

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