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Where he can hike in his wheelchair

June 20, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

His fingers could barely grasp the bow and arrow, but that didn't stop 8-year-old Kee'shawn from trying his hand at archery. When the arrow he shot fell far short of the target, the third-grader discovered a different way to participate. He borrowed a camera and happily snapped a picture of the apple skewered by his counselor's arrow.

Camp freed the paraplegic boy of many of his physical constraints. The bright child with a jack-o'-lantern smile hiked using an "all-terrain" wheelchair with mountain bike tires and caught tennis balls with a Velcro mitt. His vocal cords may strain to produce decipherable words, but he mastered the melody of his team's fight song.

"Even though he has many challenges in his life, he is still a young boy filled with joy and wonder," said Margot Andrew, executive director of the Camp Laurel Foundation, which sent Kee'shawn and his brother De'shawn, 13, to camp for the first time last summer. "He has not lost his wonderful spirit."

Kee'shawn's disabilities are the result of a bout with meningitis when he was an infant. The rare illness prompted his doctors to test for HIV, said his mother, who asked that only the family's middle names be used. He tested positive. So did his parents. His father died of complications from AIDS about a year later.

Along with 90 other children living with HIV and AIDS, the boys will enjoy camp again this summer with support from the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Fund. Camp is a self-esteem booster, Andrew said, adding, "They don't have to hide a secret up at camp. They have peers they can talk to ... about their parents or their medication, and they can't talk about that at home."

It's also time for the boys to be just kids. For a week, De'shawn, who has tested negative for HIV, is relieved of his responsibilities for much of his little brother's care, such as administering his medication, putting him to bed and plugging in his wheelchair each night.

The brothers loved playing a game named after the television show "Fear Factor": They performed zany stunts that included drinking an acrid mixture of ketchup, whipped cream and water; stepping barefoot into leftovers; and rubbing their heads in a vat of Jell-O. They loved it -- and won.

"Kee'shawn is always asking for some activity he can do. Being able to go to camp is very important, it's wonderful," his mother said. "He talks about it nonstop for a month."

This year approximately 11,000 children will experience a special summer thanks to the $1.4 million raised last year.


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