When he was born with cerebral palsy 12 years ago, doctors said Luke Laurenson might never walk or talk. But the boy with “a will of steel” began "talking" at 5 and in December began walking.
Now, a few big challenges remain — and Ashland firefighters are helping to take them on.
One of those challenges is money. The bills for medical care are more than Jane Hogan, his divorced mother can handle and, beyond that, the family needs to pay for expensive neuromotor movement therapy and an augmented communication device or “Talk Buddy,” similar to what cosmologist Stephen Hawking uses.
To help with funds, 20 Ashland firefighters have produced a video in which they dance to the song, “Shake it Off.” With a little help from the firefighters, performing atop their fire truck, Luke joins in the dance, something he learned to do this year.
The lyrics seem matched for Luke: “I'm dancing on my own, I make the moves up as I go. And that's what they don't know. But I keep cruising. Can’t stop, won't stop grooving. It’s like I got this music in my mind. Saying it's gonna be alright.”
The video premiers at 11 a.m., Sunday, June 4, at Ashland Street Cinema. The showing is free. The video will be used on the humanitarian fundraising site, youcaring.com, and Hogan says employees at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have agreed to add their own dance video to the site.
Luke now uses an obsolete communication device; a new one will cost up to $9,000. The Anat Baniel Method of movement therapy, inspired by Moshe Feldenkrais, is expensive and not covered by insurance. The fundraising goal for Luke is $34,000.
Social workers told Hogan the journey for families of children with cerebral palsy is exhausting and leads to a 95 percent failure rate for marriages.
“Sadly, this proved to be true for us,” she says.
Luke attends mainstream Ashland Middle School, with “pull-out” classes in language arts and math. His mind is sharp, and he gets help at school with eating, bathing and diaper changing, says Hogan. A team of mentors, called Project UP, was started by his sister Julia.
He’s starting to have “a premature interest in girls,” says Hogan, with a smile. “He’s smart and can beat me at all our board games now.”
On a recent sunny day, Luke showed off his walking, orbiting the grassy commons of the co-housing unit off Fordyce Street, probably covering 200 yards, his longest stroll. While he will never reach a "normal" functionality, she says, the exercises and physical therapy take advantage of brain plasticity, in which the brain builds new nerve pathways.
Luke's diagnosis is dystonic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, with a muscle-related speech disability called dysarthia. Hogan says it was triggered by a lack of oxygen in his last two days before birth, which caused brain damage.
Donations can be made at www.youcaring.com/lukehoganlaurenson-757279. The Ashland Yoga Center will also be doing a benefit for Luke from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, June 4.
“It’s one of those twists of fate,” Hogan says of Luke's situation, “but you surrender to it every day. There are no bad days. Every day, he wakes up filled with joy … . He’s defied the odds. He has a will of steel and a very profound heart. What he’s done so far is a miracle.”
At age 5, she adds, Luke began his first speech on his Talk Buddy, saying, “I love you guys. I came here to open people’s hearts and teach them about love.”
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.