Unlimited Independence Despite Physical Limitations

Not many kids receive bicycles as gifts from their school friends, but most don’t face the physical challenges Camilla “Cami” Rios does. She was recently surprised with a pink specially made adaptive bike.

A third grader at Seventh Ward Elementary School, Cami deals with many physical limitations. 

When she was only two years old, a severe meningitis infection led to both her legs being amputated above the knees, and her left arm was amputated above the elbow. Her right upper arm was also damaged, and Cami also has a deviation in her hand and damaged fingers. Despite this, Cami has remained in high spirits. 

“She’s always had the best attitude,” says Cheryl Cooner, Cami’s grandmother. “She takes everything in stride and never stops to feel sorry for herself.”

Cami, who will turn 10 in April, has prosthetic limbs that allow her to walk, and about six months ago, she graduated to prosthetic legs with knee joints to allow stair climbing and to provide a smoother stride.

“Her biggest challenge right now is getting used to the knee joints,” says Tessa Walters, Cami’s paraprofessional who helps with daily routines at school. 

Although her range of motion is severely limited, the knee joints allow Cami to use the new bike. Tessa’s eight-year-old daughter Piper raised the $4,000 to buy it for Cami, who is one of the school’s most popular students. 

“Everybody loves her, and she’s got so many friends,” Tessa says. “She’s not treated any differently than any other child.” Tessa also notes that Cami is very smart and makes good grades. 

Cheryl says that the Livingston Parish School System has been very supportive of Cami, who has attended two different schools since the family moved from Greenville, Mississippi. 

Cami travels to her school by bus and is part of a regular classroom with adaptive P.E. and physical and occupational therapy. “My favorite school subject is art,” Cami says. “I like to draw, paint and color.”

Cami assumed that her pink bike was another bike for her to use at school, and she was amazed by the news that she could take it home with her. 

“Now she has a bike like her other siblings,” Cheryl says. “It does so much for her self esteem.” 

In addition to her grandma, Cami also lives with mom, Amanda, brother Javi, and sisters, Liliana and Khristyn. When the family goes to places like the zoo that require a lot of walking, the bike will help give her dignity and independence.

Her determination and achievements have not gone unrecognized, as Cami was a recipient of the Council for Exceptional Children’s 2019 “Yes I Can’’ award in the self-advocacy category. The award honors children who are living with exceptionalities who have demonstrated determination and achievement. 

Sarah Lambert, adaptive physical education teacher at Cami’s previous school, Freshwater Elementary, nominated her.

Cami gets her positive attitude at least in part from her grandma. “I’ve always told her there’s nothing you can’t do,” Cheryl says. “It may take you a little bit longer and you may have to do it in a different way, but there’s nothing you can’t do. She listened and believed it.”

Cami has set high goals for her future. She’d like to be a cheerleader, and when she grows up, she’d like to be a teacher and a dancer. 

“She does work very, very hard to be independent,” Cheryl says. “She is just such a good little girl.”

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21 Feb 2020

By Mari Walker

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