Relative with disability inspires teen’s charity



Luis Perez may be the only 13-year-old in Riverdale saving up for a minivan.

And he does not envision hordes of his friends riding around with him in the blue Honda Odyssey he hopes to bring home. Instead, he dreams of a day when the wheelchair-accessible vehicle will allow his 24-year-old cousin and godfather David Navarro to enjoy the world outside his Washington Heights neighborhood.  

Mr. Navarro has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare genetic disease marked by rapid muscle deterioration and paralysis. Doctors didn’t expect him to live past 21. Luis and his family are determined to raise the roughly $20,000 it will cost to buy a wheelchair-accessible van for Mr. Navarro so that he can enjoy the time he has left. 

“It’s his dream. So we’re trying to make it happen,” said Luis, an eighth-grader at the David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy. MS/HS 141. “With a van, there’d be no excuse for him not to go out, he could go to the movie theater or downtown, see the city, wherever he wanted.”

The cousins have always been close. While on a family vacation in Disney World in 2000, Mr. Navarro tired and began using a wheelchair. He has relied on one ever since. 

When Luis was a child, Mr. Navarro began referring to him as his “hands and feet” because Luis was eager to pick up odds and ends, fetch snacks from the kitchen or run errands for Mr. Navarro.

Mr. Navarro’s father, also David Navarro, sleeps beside his son so he can help him shift positions when he is uncomfortable or when his limbs have fallen asleep. Mr. Navarro’s mom hasn’t been involved in his life, but his grandmother, Maria Rosa, cares for him on a daily basis, cooking, cleaning and assisting home aides and therapists.

As Mr. Navarro lost muscle strength, his father began to lift him in and out of cars. Relying on the subway system was too taxing, the Navarro family said, because not every station has an elevator and those that are wheelchair accessible sometimes have inoperable equipment.

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