Hoping to help others, elementary student donates wheelchair to school

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Cooper Echard, pictured with his first-grade class, teacher Ashley Sickles (back, left), elementary principal Kathy Koether and mom Kelly Echard, donated his pediatric wheelchair to the school to help other kids. Cooper used the wheelchair during the school year, while recovering from surgery. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Seven-year-old Cooper Echard was born with club feet, a condition where the feet are twisted out of shape or position. At 5 days old, he had his first set of casts. Then, every week, for his first 3 months of life, doctors in Rochester outfitted him with a new set.

Cooper’s Achilles was then split to correct the issue. He wore braces with shoes 24/7 until he was 9 months old, and then only when he was sleeping from the age of 9 months to 13 months old. From age 2 to 3, he wore casts off and on.

“He was doing well,” said Cooper’s mom, Kelly Echard, noting that Cooper’s doctor felt the problem was corrected, thanks to it being caught early. “They caught it within his first week of life. I knew he was going to have club feet [when I was pregnant].”

The issues returned, however, when Cooper started first grade at MFL MarMac last fall.

“On the first day of first grade, he came home crying and crawling,” Kelly said.

In October, Cooper went in for surgery, to have his calf muscles lengthened.

“We have tendons on the outside of our big toe,” Kelly explained. “Cooper’s was pulled so tight, so they moved it to the top [of the toe].”

In order to get the tendon to remain that way, doctors drilled through Cooper’s feet and secured the sutures on the bottoms of his feet with buttons.

He was in a cast until Thanksgiving and had braces from the tips of toes to his knees from November through May. From October to February, he got around using a wheelchair.

“May was the first time he got to go outside and play,” Kelly said, adding that, from now on, Cooper will only have to wear braces when he’s running and jumping. “He’s been out for the swim team, which is the best exercise for his feet. The doctor doesn’t expect any other problems.”

With Cooper’s newfound freedom, he and Kelly wanted to make it easier for other kids at school to travel where they needed to go, by donating Cooper’s pediatric wheelchair to MFL MarMac Elementary. 

“As Cooper was in a wheelchair, there were several other kids who were on crutches,” Kelly said. “It was hard for them to get from the elementary school to the lunch room. He wanted other kids to have an easier time.”

Elementary nurse Donna Krambeer said the school has an adult wheelchair, but it doesn’t work as well for the smaller kids, so the pediatric wheelchair will be a great addition.

Kelly said she’s happy it can be put to good use, rather than just sitting in her garage.

She commended Cooper’s heart and spirit through the whole experience.

“Coop’s gone through a lot at such a young age, more than people realize,” she said. “But he’s never once complained.”

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