PORTLAND, Michigan — A girl from a rural West Michigan town nearly went another year without the bike she needs, as the high price tag kept her family from buying it.
With help from a 13 ON YOUR SIDE story, however, the family of five will get to enjoy their favorite summer pastime once again.
Inside her bike trailer, it’s a rare moment of freedom for Eliana Bolthouse, a 6-year-old in Portland, Michigan.
It’s a time when she’s free from a rare brain disorder called Lissencephaly that makes it hard for her to do most day-to-day activities by herself, including walking and talking.
“It's frustrating sometimes how much extra there is to do, whether it's financial or time, and most people don't understand that experience or don't have a way to conceptualize it," said her father, Michael Bolthouse.
A still-growing Eliana soon outgrew her bike trailer, and since insurance wouldn't cover an expense considered 'recreational,' her parents realized they couldn’t afford to get her the adaptive bike she needed.
When this family-favorite activity was taken away, her parents knew it was time to do something they never wanted to do – ask for help.
“Buying a bike for a kid, it's something normal, right?" Michael said, "But buying a $9,000 bike for your kid isn't normal, so that's kind of the territory that comes with having a special needs kids."
They put Eliana’s profile on The Great Bike Giveaway, a program that donates adaptive bikes to families in need.
“Any family with a child with special needs deserves one of these bikes," said Michael.
13 ON YOUR SIDE covered the story to help Eliana and her family get the bike of their dreams a week ago.
“The news story put it out there and gave it traction and gave it visibility in a way that I don't think was there before," Michael said.
Just a day later, her project was over-funded.
“The real amazing thing was, the majority of donations were very small, you know, $5 or $10. But they made such a difference," Trisha said.
They’ve even had a number of organizations reach out to help with the cost of add-on safety features, with assembly — even to send Eliana to camp this summer.
“Seeing how everyone wanted to get behind it was kind of basically ‘team Eliana,’ that was really exciting to see," Michael said.
Now Eliana will have the bike just in time for warm weather. The Bolthouses are already planning what trails they want to take — and most importantly, which ice cream shops will be their destinations.
“People always ask, like, 'how can we help? What can we do?'" Michael said. "At the end of the day, taking care of Eliana and and helping her with her needs largely falls on us. But when it comes to the larger expenses that occur because of our special needs, helping with that is something people can do. And it's really great to see how many people did it.”
This process helped them realize it truly takes a village.
"Last weekend, we were just going for a walk down the road and playing games," Trisha said. “Both Mike and I just kind of looked at each other, knowing that we did the right thing that she was just gonna love this bike, and it's gonna be a fun way for us to spend time together as a family," she smiled.
The extra money that was donated to Eliana’s fund will be evenly distributed to the other children in need of adaptive bikes.
If you’d like to help any of those kids have a bike for the summer, you can vote or donate on the Great Bike Giveaway's website here.
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