Purchase photos

Plainville man overcoming obstacles

8/5/2014

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

PLAINVILLE -- Relatives of a Plainville man are on a mission to fulfill his desire to remain independent despite a congenital disease with debilitating effects.

Mindi Blokzyl -- younger sister of Craig Baldwin -- and her husband, Casey, have started an online fundraiser through Facebook in an effort to raise money toward the purchase of a conversion van for Baldwin.

Baldwin, 28, was born with arthrogryposis, a neuro-musculo-skeletal disorder that affects various joints in the body.

For Baldwin, it affects all four limbs, but that hasn't slowed him down much.

He started working as a tutor for summer school at Sacred Heart Grade School in Plainville two years ago. He did such a good job that when the school needed a para educator in one of the classrooms in the fall, they hired Baldwin. When the school needed some help with the maintenance of computers, Baldwin again was the obvious choice.

"It just all fell into place," said Carol Parker, longtime principal at Sacred Heart, who retired last spring. "We needed another para, so we kept him on after summer school. This last year, something came up with the computers, and he said, 'I think I can do that for you.' He fixed the machine, and one thing led to another."

Now, Baldwin is a fixture at the school, and he would like to continue expanding on his independence by buying his own vehicle.

"I've always wanted to drive, and I'd love to be able to go places," Baldwin said Wednesday as he moved a stylus with his mouth while looking for a video on his laptop computer at the school.

Wheelchair bound since his late grade-school years, Baldwin is a master of improvisation. His right arm is mobile enough to lock at the elbow to use the joystick for his wheelchair, and a bicep/tricep transplant surgery on his left arm provides him with the ability to hold items in his hand.

"I always try to come up with a way to get through," said Baldwin, who doesn't consider himself disabled. "I just adapt to make things work for me."

After suffering numerous falls and surgeries -- he broke his left arm seven times while growing up -- people in Baldwin's hometown of Plainville got together to buy him an electric wheelchair when he was in sixth grade.

Now, it's a common sight for Plainville residents to see Baldwin motoring around town in his chair, a backward baseball cap on his head.

He attended Fort Hays State University and Pratt Community College and returned to his home town a few years ago. His stepmother, Thea Baldwin, teaches music and physical education at Sacred Heart Grade School and told Parker he could help with summer school back in 2012.

"I landed here, and I couldn't be happier about that," Baldwin said.

While the motorized chair provides local transportation when weather permits, Baldwin has to rely on others to transport him anywhere out of town.

He said he feels like a burden then because riding in someone else's vehicle means taking along the push wheelchair instead of the heavy motorized chair.

Baldwin has been checking out the prices of conversion vans with wheelchair lifts for a while, so his sister and brother-in-law decided to take action to help.

Baldwin said, depending on the type of modifications necessary to make to the van, they can range anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000.

Whatever the case, the Indiegogo online account where people can make donations by PayPal or credit card is a start.

The Blokzyls hope to raise as much as they can in 60 days.

A total of $1,200 was raised during the first week, including $300 people donated directly to Blokzyl.

"If he had his own van, it would really open more doors for him. He could come visit us, our mom," said Blokzyl, Baldwin's only sibling, who lives in Clearwater with her husband and their 1-year-old son, Xavier.

Their mother, Shannon Crawford, lives nearby in Wichita, while their dad and stepmother, Steve and Thea Baldwin, live in Plainville.

"He's very well liked, and definitely an inspiration to a lot of people," Parker said. "I hope this works well for them."

To make a donation online, visit igg.me/p/879970/x/8262891.