Paralyzed Reno boy looks forward to new home

Jesse Eligio likes Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray. He likes spaghetti, hot dogs, pepperoni pizza and his older brother’s Xbox.

He likes his mom, Alicia, standing curbside in the morning and sending him off to school. He likes meeting her and the family’s “Chiuauapoo,” named Mili, in the same spot in the afternoon. He likes the hugs and kisses his mom gives him.

And what 10-year-old Jesse is hoping for these days is to move into his “new” home _ one that is awaiting final touches from Habitat for Humanity.

Lifting Jesse’s 100-pound frame from a wheelchair and onto his bed isn’t easy for the petite Alicia. Nor is knowing that her son has limited mobility and can’t move from his neck down.

But despite these conditions, Jesse, with brown eyes and long dark eyelashes, brings delight. He smiles, cracks jokes and exudes politeness.

He teases his dad about being a “bad” wheelchair driver.

He is described as one of the most polite students in his class at Hidden Valley Elementary School, across town from his family’s rental home near Vassar Street. He attends Hidden Valley not because the family lives in the area, but because the school offers the best accommodations for him.

He can’t move his hands, but being able to tell his mother that her hands are cold when she touches his, shows he has some feeling in his hands.

“Have you ever read about Christopher Reeve?” his dad said when asked about Jesse’s prognosis. “Jesse’s condition is like that. That’s the best example that there is.” Jesse also can wiggle his ears.

“When he’s in a good mood, he’s singing and telling jokes,” his dad said

Jesse suffered a spinal cord injury in 2006, when he chased a family dog out into the street and was struck by a car. He was in hospitals for a year undergoing surgeries and rehabilitation. Since then, his spinal cord damage has limited his ability to move, to learn and to eat.

Just recently, at a Reno Aces game, a class outing with special education teacher Joe Doucette, Jesse had his first hot dog with ketchup since the accident. Usually, he’s fed through a feeding tube.

Since the accident, life has changed for the Eligio family, which includes dad, Adrian; mom, Alicia; brother, Angel, 12; and sister, Emely, 6. The two siblings attend Veterans Memorial Elementary School.

In some ways, the changes have not been quick enough.

It’s been 3 1/2 years since volunteers started work on a Habitat for Humanity home for the family on Kings Row.

There have been delays due to needed accommodations for the home, according to Christine Price, executive director of Truckee Meadows Habitat for Humanity.

However, change should come in June when the family hopes to move in. The event should fall right around Jesse’s birthday on June 28.

That’s also a time of year when he’s had surgeries, and he has another operation scheduled next month to help strengthen his spine.

A one-mile walk/run is scheduled May 29 at the Sparks Marina to help Habitat for Humanity raise money for final costs to finish the home.

“For his birthday, maybe we’ll get into this house,” his dad said.

Jesse’s life is anything but simple, and a house with modifications, including hallways wide enough for his wheelchair and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, would help. He sees six doctors, including a pediatrician, a neurologist, a pulmonologist, a spinal cord doctor, a bone doctor and a plastic surgeon.

He isn’t able to sweat. His body temperature fluctuates and he needs to be covered to keep warm. Much of the time, he needs to wear a hat to keep heat from escaping from his head.

Before getting on the school bus every morning, his school-assigned nurse, Faydene Oliver, takes his temperature and checks his heart rate and blood pressure. The batteries are checked on his wheelchair. And if anything is out of ordinary, Jesse doesn’t go to school.

“We try for him to be more out in the public,” his dad said. “Keeping him at home is like hiding him. I want him to be more like a normal kid.”

The nurse carries medications that Jesse might need during the day, backup parts for his breathing ventilator, and a replacement suction machine and oxymeter in case the others break.

She stays with him throughout the day, as does teaching assistant Susan Nellis. The two keep attention on Jesse at all times.

“Either I’m looking at him or she’s looking at him,” Oliver said. “If the tubing pops out (on his ventilator), he can’t breathe.”

Nellis assists Jesse and special education teacher Joe Doucette in the classroom. She helps Jesse with technology-assisted computer programs on which he practices spelling and math.

“I have six children and seven grandchildren,” she said. “He is like one of my grandchildren. We’re joined at the hip.”

Nellis follows Jesse as he heads down the hall, steering his wheelchair using a plastic tube touching his chin.

“What I think I appreciate most about Jesse is that he really works hard. All the people around him have really grown from having him here,” Doucette said. “He’s really, the majority of the time, the politest kid I’ve come across, and very positive.”

As Jesse finished a recent school day, students looked at trip pictures on a laptop from a Reno Aces game against the Las Vegas 51s.

Even though it’s 1:45 p.m. and Jesse is getting tired, a side effect of his anti-seizure medication, he is smiling and laughing at the photos.

Soon, Jesse will get on a bus with Nellis and Oliver and head home to his mother. An entirely different routine will start there.

Associated Press

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