Ethan Rickman is an eight-year-old child who is a student at Tellico Plains Elementary School.
He loves riding the bus to school and back home each day. And he actually leaves home with excitement each morning, ready to go see his teachers, Ms. Sharon (Stone) and Ms. Dawn (Shaw).
Ethan likes music. Music with a hard beat or rap style is his preference.
I met Ethan at his home on Monday evening. He was jumping around, climbing and swinging, as is normal activity for many boys his age.
Very politely, young Ethan extended his hand and took mine when we were introduced, and soon he was climbing on his swing, first sitting in it and then standing and swinging. He seemed happy and content occupying himself as his parents, brothers, and I became acquainted.
Ethan’s oldest brother, Brandon, is 18 and graduated last year from Tellico Plains High School, where brother Blake, who is 15, is a student.
Brandon says that Ethan is a neat kid, “He keeps us busy keeping him busy. His favorite place is on our backs, he likes to be carried on our back or just have us sit with him hanging around our neck from the back.”
“And he loves for us to throw him up in the air.”
Blake is pretty proud of his little brother and enjoys having his friends meet him. He says “the girls especially like Ethan!”
Just sitting and chatting for a bit, I realized that Ethan has a special family. Ethan’s father David and his wife Sara took the time to tell me a little about their day-to-day life and some of the challenges that Ethan faces.
Ethan is autistic and non-verbal, and communicating his needs or desires is difficult. But this family meets the challenge.
David explained to me that Ethan has medical issues that are problematic. He was diagnosed as a baby with “panhypopituitarism,” defined as a condition of inadequate or absent production of the anterior pituitary hormones.
Simplifying things for me, David explained that Ethan does not produce growth hormones, cortisol, or adrenaline among other essential hormones. Danger lurks if Ethan’s medication or blood glucose levels are not kept in check.
As a result of the panhypopituitarism, David continued to explain, Ethan was born with “optic nerve hypoplasia,” a medical condition arising from the underdevelopment of the optic nerve(s). This condition is the most common congenital optic nerve anomaly. The optic disc appears abnormally small, because not all the optic nerve axons have developed properly.
Optic nerve hypoplasia is often associated with hormone deficiencies, as in Ethan’s case, developmental delay, and brain malformations.
In layman terms… Ethan was born blind.
I had heard of David Rickman and his desire to create a special room in his home for his son so I wanted to meet him and Ethan and their family.
I arrived at the home and found a little boy who is much loved by three parents and two brothers and he loves them back.
David and Sara said that though Ethan lives with them primarily, he spends weekends with his mother, Michelle Robinson. Sara says she is unsure how Ethan knows exactly when the weekend arrives, but he always seems aware that it is time and is excited for his mother to come.
In conversation, everyone agreed that there is one special happy place for Ethan when he is home, and that is on his swing set.
Ethan would live outside on the swing set if he could, they say.
He has never had a real interest in toys his father said, but he loves to climb, jump, slide, and swing.
Realistically though, he can’t be outside on the swing set all the time so a small plastic child’s swing hangs in a doorway inside the home.
As far as his desire to climb and jump, when inside the house, Ethan finds the furniture to be the next best thing to a trampoline! And his climbing and jumping shortens the life of sofas and chairs.
So David has a dream of providing an outdoor like playground indoors for Ethan, complete with wooden swing set, slide, padded floor, and rope climbing wall. “He is older now, “ David said, “and he gets bored much easier.” I want him to have a safe place to do all the things that make him happy.”
So, the couple has decided to convert what was their bedroom into Ethan’s Happy Place but like in many households, things sometimes have to wait until the family budget allows.
After meeting the Rickman family, I too have a dream.
A dream to see David’s dream of Ethan’s Happy Place come true sooner than will be possible without a little help.
Over the years I have witnessed differences made in the lives of others by caring people in our area. Those people who, when it comes to making dreams come true, step up and step out!
A material list to build the indoor playground will come in somewhere around $2,500.
So I am asking for your help.
If I can find 250 people willing to invest $10 in seeing this dream come true, in a few weeks we will be able to ask five or six people who are skilled to come together for a day and help construct this magical playground for Ethan.
God never makes mistakes. He places children with special needs in special families with special bonds and a special love.
And He places those special families in special communities.
If you would like to help build Ethan’s Happy Place, drop your donation by the Buzz office, or mail it to The Buzz at 113 Main Street in Madisonville.