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Gainesville mother hopes for change for wheelchair-bound son

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Posted: Friday, February 15, 2013 12:51 am

Timothy Bird loves watching action-packed thrillers and spending time on his computer. But he is not your average 23-year-old.

He doesn’t have a driver’s license, can’t text his friends or sing in the shower. In fact, he can’t even take a shower.

At 7 years old, Timothy was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes rapid muscle degeneration in the body.

His mother, Dee Bird, said she didn’t know she was a carrier of the genetic disorder when she gave birth to her son.

“He couldn’t ride a bike,” she said. “He couldn’t climb stairs.”

Despite being confined to a wheelchair since age 10, Timothy graduated from Sebring High School in Sebring, Fla., and was accepted to UF in 2007.

He completed his first semester that Fall but had to take the next semester off because of his health.

When Timothy returned to school in the Fall of 2008, he studied to become a veterinarian but switched his major to history.

“That’s when he got really sick,” Dee Bird, 52, said.

Timothy was in the hospital with pneumonia for two weeks during that semester. It was then that he lost his ability to swallow, and he became weaker, she said.

Despite this setback, he still completed the semester.

“He’s brilliant,” Dee Bird said. “He passed all his classes with A’s and B’s.”

Timothy, however, has not returned to school since 2008.

Today, he relies on a ventilator to breathe and can’t move his arms or legs. He has trouble talking, and when he does speak, his words are a raspy whisper.

His mother enlists nurses, like Valerie Evans, to come to their west Gainesville apartment to help Timothy brush his teeth, change his clothes, bathe him and feed him through a tube connected to his small intestine through his abdomen.

Evans often brings her teacup Yorkshire terrier, Lenny, to the Birds’ residence.

When he is not lying in bed, Timothy sits in his wheelchair with pillows piled on his lap to support his arms. Lenny then climbs up on the pillows, lies close to Timothy and licks his face.

Although having dogs around the house is good company, Evans said she wishes Timothy had more young people visit him.

“I’m 63,” she said. “I’m no fun.”

People with Duchenne muscular dystrophy typically live into their 20s, but with the right equipment, they will live to their 30s, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The Birds can’t afford the proper equipment for Timothy’s medical necessities.

Dee Bird said she is hosting a series of penny drives, called Pennies for Timothy, to raise money for the equipment. The first drive will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Gainesville Mini Market, located at 7208 W. University Ave.

One item Bird needs is a ramp to load his wheelchair into his mom’s truck. Without it, Dee Bird said she can’t take her son anywhere without calling a van service three days in advance.

“When the doctor wants him in the office right now, I have no way of getting him there,” she said.

Donations can also be made at www.muscles4timothy.org.

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