Sunday, September 26, 2021

Local nonprofit gives quadriplegic people free helicopter rides


Torrance Johnson had just one word to describe his ride: “Fantastical.”

At first, the helicopter was shaky but then steadied as it reached its peak height at 1,000 feet. Besides, his mom was more scared than he was, Johnson said.

Torrance, 15, is one of five participants living with disabilities who were selected for free helicopter rides Tuesday through the D-MAN Foundation’s Assisted Travel Program. Four of the participants, including Johnson, are quadriplegic.

“Because he doesn’t get to do a lot, and for him to find something that he could do and that he’s excited about, it’s huge,” said his mother, Katrina Johnson of Detroit, watching employees from the foundation lift Torrance into the helicopter. 

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Katrina Johnson of Detroit watches her son Torrance Johnson, 15 with a smile on his face as they leave the Oakland County International Airport after a helicopter ride hosted by the D-Man Foundation in Waterford Township on Sept. 14, 2021.

Born with type two spinal muscular atrophy, a terminal disease, Torrance has spent his life confined to his electric wheelchair. However, this hasn’t stopped him from accomplishing more than the average teenager: he has written a book, does motivational speaking, met Michelle Obama — just to name a few of his achievements.

“It had a (big) impact on what I can do from this chair, especially when I look at people who aren’t in this chair who haven’t been up there,” Torrance said, reflecting on his 45-minute helicopter ride. “Anyone can be on an airplane, but a helicopter, that’s something different.”

The helicopter rides Tuesday are just one of the adventures the D-MAN foundation offers those with mobile and cognitive disabilities. Past opportunities have included swimming with dolphins, riding in vintage cars during the Woodward Dream Cruise, and trips to Florida.

D-Man Foundation founder Ziad Kassab shakes hands with Torrance Johnson, 15, of Detroit, after Johnson's helicopter ride at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford Township on Sept. 14, 2021.

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“We want to show what abilities they have, not what disabilities they have,” said Lexus Kejbou, executive director of the nonprofit. “We like to give them a different experience, something that they’ve never experienced before, to be able to sit in the front seat for once and experience the little things we usually take for granted.”



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