Casting vote in van contest could give Sacramento boy a lift

Aaron Negrete learned to swim even though he has no arms or legs. He can pull himself into his wheelchair by sheer will.

The 10-year-old Sacramento-area youth maintains good grades by using a special computer with an infrared mouse that reflects on a sticker attached to his forehead. He’s learned how to bounce across the room on his bottom.

However, for all his hard-won ability, Aaron still needs his electric wheelchair. Now, his mother, his teachers, and his mother’s vehicle mechanic are asking people to vote for him on a website for the nonprofit National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association so that he can win a new van with a wheelchair lift. The contest is being held to raise awareness of the options available for the disabled to get around.

Aaron was born with a rare condition called Tetra-Amelia syndrome, which means he has no limbs. His mother, Juanita Garcia, a pharmacy technician and a house cleaner on the weekends, said her mechanic is “constantly fixing” the family’s 1995 Dodge van. Garcia, a single mother, can’t afford a new van with a lift, a rig that can run $50,000.

The van is needed to transport the electric wheelchair, which are Aaron’s legs, according to inclusion specialist-teacher Charlene Grady at Starr King K-8 School in Arden Arcade where Aaron is a fourth-grader. Otherwise, he must be lifted into a car, and, once at his destination, be pushed in a manual wheelchair.

He does not want to be reliant on others when he visits friends, doctors’ offices or the movies. He would much rather drive his wheelchair using head switches.

Grady said that other students gravitate toward Aaron. He charms with his optimistic attitude and sense of humor.

“Watching Aaron overcome any limitations inspires other students to also overcome limitations of their own,” said Grady. “Aaron is bright, imaginative and has a promising future.”

One of Grady’s responsibilities is to make sure Aaron goes to physical therapy, including swimming in a pool on a campus adjacent to Starr King.

Last year, Aaron had a key role in the school play, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” This year he is performing the role of the lion in the “Wizard of Oz,” although there is nothing cowardly about how he overcomes challenges.

“I first think of how I am going to do something and if it does not work, I have to think again in my head how I am going to do it,” said Aaron, who writes with a pencil held in his mouth. “I think about a different way I am going to accomplish it and I won’t stop thinking until I get it.”

Doctors once considered outfitting Aaron with prostheses, but the boy does not have stumps to support the weight. He spends his life figuring out how to go about his day with his mouth, head and foot, which is directly attached to his hip.

The contest in which he is entered gives lift-equipped vans to the four highest vote-getters on

Aaron’s story and the opportunity to cast a ballot for the spunky 10-year-old appears when a potential voter types his name. The contest began March 11, about a month before he was listed on the site, so Aaron is trailing some entrants, said Grady, who has been going room-to-room to drum up votes at Starr King.

“You can vote every day until May 9,” said Grady. “We know Aaron will accomplish whatever he puts his mind to. Giving him the opportunity to be more independent is a valuable investment in the future.”