GARNERVILLE, N.Y. -- Garnerville resident Aris Gomez was within months of making his dreams of becoming a probationary firefighter come true when he was suddenly sidelined by a massive stroke.
At the age of 12, Gomez had fallen in love with firefighting after attending a county training program for kids.
He started hanging around at the Thiells Roseville Fire Department where he attended weekly drills in the hopes of joining as a probationary firefighter when he turned 16.
“He was more dedicated than a lot of folks,” said Austin Gillman, a Thiells firefighter and friend of Gomez’s.
Just four months before that could happen, a blood vessel burst in his brain.
According to his mother, Vanessa Rodriguez, the teen underwent emergency surgery but was not expected to live through the night.
Gomez survived, but at the cost of the use of his right side.
Now nearly 18, he uses a motorized wheelchair and is learning to use his left hand to write and to feed himself.
He attends school and gets physical and other therapy at a pediatric hospital.
“He is our miracle,” said Rodriguez, who has posted her son’s story on a website promoting National Mobility Awareness Month.
Like most 18 year olds, Gomez prizes his space, his mother said, and that is why she has entered him in a “local heroes” contest run by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA).
The NMEDA is a non-profit, advocacy group that strives to provide disabled folks with specialty vehicles and other mobility aids.
In Gomez’s case, a van that would fit a motorized wheelchair would go a long way towards helping him regain some of his independence.
At 6-feet-tall, Gomez towers over his petite mom. If they need to go anywhere, Rodriguez, who has a bad back, has to have help getting him in and out of a folding wheelchair. An accessible van would be a life-changer for both mother and son.
Voting in the contest is going on now and continues through Tuesday, May 31.