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on October 26, 2005

Tetra: Making a difference for many families

Dylan Boyd's family recognizes he'll face many challenges in life and is glad the Tetra Society is there to find innovative ways to overcome them. From left are, six-year-old Dylan Boyd; his mother Kim Boyd; father Jim Boyd; and sister Olivia Boyd, 10.

The Tetra Society is breaking down barriers, one innovative design at a time.

"The society is a non-profit group that recruits volunteer engineers, technologists, health professionals and anybody that has a technical mind to be able to create assistive devices for people with disabilities, things that aren't already available on the marketplace," says Christine Plourde, co-ordinator for the Fredericton chapter of the Tetra Society.

Often the items they adapt are simple things, something a person needs to do an everyday task.

"In our chapter, we've done a lot of things dealing with recreation because that's not funded under the Medicare system," explains Plourde.

One of the items volunteers have adapted is a motorized car and one of the first to try it out was six-year-old Dylan Boyd.

His mother, Kim Boyd, vividly remembers the day Dylan, who has cerebral palsy, learned to drive it.

"We were going to meet with Lise Bleau, an occupational therapist at Stan Cassidy (Rehabilitation Centre)," she says.

When she and Dylan arrived, Bleau had a little grey and red jeep there that had been adapted by Tetra.

When Kim Boyd learned what Bleau had planned, she admits she was surprised, as Dylan can't sit on his own and needs to be in supported seating.

"He's a quadriplegic. He has movement in his arms and legs yet he has no control over his arms and legs," explains Kim Boyd.

She couldn't imagine how he'd be able to drive, when he'd never done anything like it before, but she trusted Bleau.

"We had him all buckled and fastened in so he was nice and safe, and we had a little piece in the back for head support," she says.

Then Bleau fastened a bib made of mouldable plastic around Dylan's neck and placed the control button - a happy-face switch - on that so he would have access to it.

"In order for him to make the car go, he had to press down with his chin on his happy-face button," says Boyd. "And within an hour-and-a-half he was doing it."

She adds, "I was in tears, it was amazing."

Dylan went all over the place, driving through the halls of the Stan Cassidy Rehabilitation Centre to the encouragement of staff and patients, before taking it outside.

"He even got to go over the lawn and into the mucky part," she says.

"He was laughing - it was just amazing to see him go in that little car."

Boyd says her family is lucky to have Bleau.

"She's such an inspiration because she doesn't set any limits for these special needs kids."

Bleau really feels the kids can learn things, says Boyd, even when parents have their doubts.

"Mom and dad get used to limitations and they (the staff at Stan Cassidy) say 'they can do that,'" says Jim Boyd, Dylan's father.

His wife adds, "As parents, we're thankful to have Lise. And we're thankful to Tetra, because you can't buy something like this on the market."

Since then, Dylan has driven the adapted car at school and around his neighbourhood.

"It's priceless," says Jim Boyd. "There was such excitement and joy on that boys face."

He adds, "You don't think how important that would be to a little boy, but it is."

Kim Boyd says Tetra is a great organization. Thanks in part to the work the volunteers there are doing, she can see that there are no limits on what her son can do.

"As a parent of a child with special needs, we're learning every day, too," she says. "You don't mean to limit them, but you're very overprotective of them."

This is the moulded plastic bib created by the Stan Cassidy Centre for Dylan Boyd to wear when driving the adapted car. His father, Jim Boyd, calls this a work in progress as it needs another strap to help keep it in place. He says so many things are a work in progress for special needs kids, as they need to be tweaked to best serve the user.
Having the opportunity to drive the adapted car gave Dylan such a sense of accomplishment, she says.

"Just the expression on Dylan's face. It was like, 'Wow - everybody is so proud of me.' " says Boyd.

"For him it was the joy of being able to do something and not having someone do it for him," she notes.

The experience was an amazing one for all of them.

"Dylan has so many challenges, but yet he's a joyful little child, always smiles and laughs," she says. "We're so very blessed to have him."

Seeing Dylan's enjoyment of the car, his grandfather went out and purchase a Corvette for him, which is in the process of being adapted now.

The man who is doing the adapting is Tom Sisk. This engineer has been volunteering with the Tetra Society for about two years.

He discovered the organization after moving to Fredericton three years ago.

"I like building things and solving problems," he says, "a lot of the work we do with Tetra is actually building something."

Some things are simple, others pose a bit more of a creative challenge.

Click to zoom (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Six-year-old Dylan Boyd enjoys riding in his customized jeep. The toy allows the little boy to control its movements using a chin-activated switch.
"To me, the solving of the problem is intellectual stimulation," he says.

"Being able to start at one end and actually finish something is sort of a neat little rush."

The fact that the items he and the other volunteers create help make someone's life better is a wonderful bonus. Sisk admits it's a nice feeling.

"That's part of a personal philosophy," he says.

"If you can be doing something, you should be doing something."

The local chapter of the Tetra Society began in 2000. It was founded by Plourde and another engineer.

The appeal of the society was being able to be able to use their engineering skills in a way that would directly help someone, she says, "and you could actually see a smile on somebody's face because of something you've done."

She adds, "In a technical profession, you don't often get to experience that with your work."

Plourde and the other Tetra volunteers have slowly been spreading the word about their organization ever since. "It's an ongoing process to just keep getting the word out," she says.

"The biggest thing is to just talk about it, to tell people about it, to just remember it exists."

New volunteers are always welcome, as are donations of materials.

"We work on very little funding locally. The way the program works is the volunteer time is free, so all the design and build services are free.

It is only the cost of the materials that would be the responsibility of the client," says Plourde, noting that they do their best to keep these costs to a minimum.

The local chapter is small and is the only one in New Brunswick, says Plourde.

When people join, they are asked to donate a one-time $10 fee to help with the day-to-day operations of the volunteer-run group.

To learn more about the local chapter of the Tetra Society, contact Plourde at 462-7662 or by e-mail at cplourde@CRAworld.com.

Or visit the Tetra website at http://www.tetrasociety.org/.

The local chapter holds a regular volunteer meeting the first Monday of the month at 6:45 p.m.

For more information, contact Plourde.

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