“Ben lights up the room. He’s full of energy. He always wants to chat with people. He always asks about your day. He literally is the best part of my Monday,” said Sanford Health occupational therapist Brittany Wilhelm. “He’s one of my last patients and he just comes in and is ready to work and he’s full of life. Everyone loves to talk to Ben.”
Benny, age 10, lives with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that makes it hard for his brain to tell his body what to do.
“It’s really hard for him to do things independently, which is why he’s had therapy pretty much his whole life,” said Wilhelm.
‘A second family’
Benny has been coming to Sanford Children’s since he was about 6 months old, and has been working with some of the same therapists, including Sarah Keller, nearly the entire time.
“I watched Ben essentially grow up before my eyes, and he’s just one of the most, joy-filled, happy kids that you’ll ever meet. He just has this smile and this laugh, that emanates happiness,” said Keller, a pediatric physical therapist.
“It’s very much like having another family, a second family,” said Jessica Lemieux, Benny’s mother. “The fact that he’s known Sarah, and he’s known Brittany for years, they’ve seen him grow. They help him. They know if he’s having a challenge here, what’s best to help him work through that.
“You just can’t describe the confidence that comes with that, and the amount of support that we receive working with Sanford and all the great therapists that they have here. It’s a relief, knowing that I can bring him, and know that he’s in good, loving hands.”
Hard work and hard-won results
The team at Sanford Children’s has been working with Benny, and his family, to help him live more independently. That includes physical therapy, but also years of training to move himself in his power chair. This allows him to control his own movement, but just as importantly, it gives his family some comfort as well.
“It was quite extensive to get him in and out of a manual wheelchair, take him up and down and move him around. … It’s definitely a struggle,” said Jessica Lemieux. “It’s not only a physical feat to help him with those things, but it’s an emotional cost as well. So for him to have this independence … it lightens that burden, if you will, and it allows him to be more of a kid.”
Along with gaining the ability to move more freely, Benny is also becoming more independent in other facets of his life. His family encourages him to try any activity that interests him. So last school year, he was in the school choir, he played baseball, and he was even voted by his classmates onto the Student Council.
He was also chosen to be a star for the Great American Bike Race in Bismarck-Mandan as well, after being nominated by his therapists at Sanford Children’s. He continues to inspire others with his story and his attitude every day.
“Benny is love,” said Jessica Lemieux. “He is the most positive, happy, supportive, caring little boy I’ve ever met in my life. He will walk into a room and his smile just lights it up.
“He has challenges for sure, but his positivity, it just keeps him going,” she said, her voice catching. “Anyone who encounters him just falls in love with Ben. He’s special. I’ve never met anyone like him. And I’m just so proud to be his mom.”
The pride that everyone shows in their affection for Benny Lemieux shines through these halls, almost as brightly as his smile.
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