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Free wheelchair van could help Tualatin teen and his mom

TJ Grand's mom Lillieth is a 'Local Hero' in nationwide contest.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lillieth Grand, carries her son, TJ, a freshman at Tualatin High School, into their van from a wheelchair. Their van is not equipped with a wheelchair access.For Lillieth Grand, it's an opportunity that came out of the blue, and it's one that could make a tremendous difference for her and her son TJ.

Fifteen-year-old TJ is a freshman at Tualatin High School. He has lived with disabilities for his entire life, with escalating brain damage caused by frequent seizures that began when he was 3 years old, and he is wheelchair-bound.

Lillieth Grand is a single mother. All three of her sons have special needs, but as TJ gets bigger and older, one of her most pressing challenges is, simply, transportation. It's hard for her to lift her 115-pound son in and out of her minivan, she said.

Grand and her ex-husband David, TJ's father, are enlisting the help of friends, coworkers and the community at large to try to win a wheelchair-accessible van for her use.

“They're very, very expensive to purchase,” Lillieth Grand said.

“It's a minimum of a $60,000 gift (in value),” said David Grand.

Lillieth Grand has been nominated in a nationwide "Local Heroes" contest as part of National Mobility Awareness Month. Three wheelchair vans will be awarded through the contest to those in need.

People can vote online for a nominee every day during the month of May. After that, Grand said, judges will determine which of the top vote-getters will receive the vans.

“I actually have a chance, if people vote,” she said, beaming. “It could really happen.”

Grand said she has a master's degree in special education, and she runs Milestone Music Therapy, using music to connect with children who have developmental or neurological disabilities.

“I work primarily with children with autism or like TJ,” she said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lillieth Grand shows some love to her son, TJ, a freshman at Tualatin High School.

TJ was born with a brain defect known as a Chiari I malformation. He underwent surgery and made significant progress, his mother said — but a week before his fourth birthday, he began suffering seizures, a symptom of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

The seizures have caused progressive brain damage, his parents recounted. When TJ was younger, he could walk and even go up and down stairs, and he could speak in short sentences. But now, he is confined to a wheelchair, has low muscle tone and can only speak a word or two at a time. Lillieth Grand said he has also been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Despite TJ's condition, Chelsea Newton — a learning specialist at Tualatin High who works with him and other students with disabilities — described him as "a vibrant personality who loves all things TuHS Timberwolves."

"Despite the fact that he is a nonverbal communicator, his personality emanates in such a way that the room lights up when he enters," Newton said. "He's truly a remarkable individual."

Newton suggested that ease of transportation in the form of a wheelchair van would give TJ more opportunities to participate in social activities.

Lillieth Grand said she was nominated in the contest after one of her clients shared her story with R&J Mobility Service Inc., a wheelchair van dealer and remodeler based in Independence.

Readers can learn more about the Grands' story and vote for Lillieth Grand to receive a wheelchair van at their Mobility Awareness Month entrant website.

The wheelchair vans are being supplied by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, a nonprofit organization.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lillieth Grand holds a flyer of a wheelchair van that she hopes to win for her son, TJ, a freshman at Tualatin High School.

By Mark Miller
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