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By B. Scott Mohr
When Sarah Carpenter made the A and B honor roll as a fifth-grader two years ago, she was awarded an adorable havamalt puppy by her parents. But the little puppy didn’t remain hers for long as she soon began to share it with her younger brother, Jonathan, who had grown quite fond of it.
Sharing her dog with Jonathan, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was a no-brainer for Sarah, who commented, “He had fallen in love with Lily. I didn’t mind sharing her with him because she makes him so happy. He likes Lily to lick his ears. And she also likes him. She will often sleep on his lap. She’ll growl (in a friendly manner) if I try to take her off Jonathan’s lap.”
And being the generous person that she is, Sarah took the gifting measure one step further – she saw to it that Lily was trained as a therapy dog. As such, Lily – a havanese-maltese mix – yipes when Jonathan has seizures, as she did when the interview for this story was conducted.
Jonathan, the 10-year-old son of Samantha and James “Forrest” Carpenter, was born blind and deaf and is confined to a wheelchair. He attends Arlington Elementary in Franklin Township three days a week.
“He is predominantly blind – we really don’t know what he can see – and profoundly deaf,” said Mrs. Carpenter, “but he communicates through facial expressions and verbal sounds. He’ll also squeal and kick his feet. He can be quite ornery, just like any 10-year-old. He has so much personality. You just have to dig a little deeper to get at it. He brings us so much joy. Some of the more difficult things in life are the most rewarding.
“He loves us to take him on strolls at Southeastway Park, and he loves to float in the water, especially our pool when it’s warm enough. We are looking to enroll him in a special needs swimming program at the IUPUI Natatorium.”
When it comes to caring for Jonathan, Sarah can be just as overprotective as her parents. “Sarah was ready to lay into some teenagers at the mall when she heard them say Jonathan was screwed up,” Mrs. Carpenter said. “I once heard a kid say something about a special needs students at school, and I said something to him about it,” said Sarah. “When he said it again, I strongly suggested that he not say it again.”
A seventh-grader at Franklin Township Middle School West, Sarah likes science and is active in Peer Buddy, which provides students with and without disabilities the opportunity to work together in inclusive educational settings. She plans on being a nurse to special needs children and is developing a flair for her career by dressing and bathing Jonathan and feeding him through a gastrostomy tube on weekends – or as Mrs. Carpenter says, “Whenever she feels like it.
“It’s been a learning curve for all us of ... the medications, procedures and what programs are available. He could be on a ventilator, but that would not allow us to take him on walks. We are doing our best to keep him happy.”
“I can left him and put him in his wheelchair, but he’s heavy,” said Sarah, who has an angelic look about herself.
The Carpenters are fortunate that they have almost 24/7 nursing care. Jonathan has his favorite nurses, and Thomas Bruno, who used to care for him, stopped by over the weekend.
“I’ve been blessed to have really good nurses. They become really connected with Jonathan and often kiss him on his forehead when they leave,” said Mrs. Carpenter, branch manager for the Indiana Members Credit Union on the IUPUI campus. Her husband is a heating, venting and air-conditioning journeyman. The doctors originally predicted Jonathan’s life expectancy to be about 8 years, but Mrs. Carpenter said Jonathan is not paying any attention to those predictions.
“I would like to see more people step outside of their comfort zones and work with special needs children. It would be nice to break down that barrier. I always tell people that Jonathan is a blessing and that he brings us good things: We always get priority parking and seating.”