Teen Violinist Battles Cerebral Palsy as he Lifts Spirits in Tohoku

By Yusuke Saito

Mizuki Shikimachi knows all too well what it’s like to struggle with adversity. The Tokyo high school student has been battling cerebral palsy for all of his brief 17 years.

A violin player since he was 4, Shikimachi was moved when he saw the images on the TV news of the disasters of March 11, 2011.

Despite the vagaries of his condition and the constant struggle with paralysis in his limbs, he knew he wanted to do something to help the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

After talking it over with his mother, he decided to play charity concerts to help raise money for recovery efforts in the Tohoku region.

“I will never forget the disaster-stricken area,” Shikimachi says. “I don’t know when I’ll go blind, but I want to devote my life to the violin.”

Mizuki was born prematurely with a condition called “cerebellar hypoplasia,” a rare embryonic disorder in which his cerebellum was only half the normal size. He began playing the violin at such a young age for rehabilitation purposes.

“We considered the piano, too, but he was too weak to press the keys,” says his mother, Keiko, 43. “He couldn’t maintain his balance while sitting.”

But little Mizuki soon took to the violin.

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Marine Getting Joy from Helping Kids with Special Needs

By James Gilbert

Growing up, when Sgt. Benjamin McIntire’s mother spoke about her son, she always said he had a heart of gold and described him as a caring and giving child who wanted to help people.

She knew her son very well, because McIntire, a 24-year-old U.S. Marine stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, has been a volunteer at Saddles of Joy for nearly two years, bringing smiles to the faces of children with special needs.

“I truly love what they are about and really enjoy working with both the kids and the animals. I am at the ranch as much as I possibly can,” said McIntire, who is a F-35 power plant mechanic with VMFA-121. “Everyone needs to have a happy place, and Saddles of Joy is my happy place.”

McIntire, who was born and raised in Kentucky, was also recognized in September as Saddles of Joy’s Volunteer of the Quarter, for having volunteered for more than 300 hours at its ranch since March of 2012, despite his busy schedule at the air station.

Saddles of Joy owner, Barbara Tomlinson, said her organization lovingly refers to McIntyre as their 9-1-1 guy because he is always willing to help.

“He is truly a remarkable young man and we are extremely lucky to have him,” Tomlinson said. “He has a heart of gold and a tremendous work ethic. I’m sure his mother is extremely proud of him.”

“Every since that first day, I was hooked,” McIntire said. “Working with the special needs children and horses. It just seemed it was where I needed to be at the time. I love being out there.”

It was a chance conversation that led McIntire to Saddles of Joy. Although he has been at the air station since 2008, he said he had never heard of the place. He explained that one day he happened to be talking with a watch commander who mentioned he knew of a horse ranch in Yuma that was in desperate need of volunteers to help with some large projects, and thought he would look into it.

“At the time I thought it sounded like a good idea,” McIntire said. “I could work on my volunteer service medal and get involved with the community.

McIntire said when he went to Saddles of Joy for the first time, it was with a buddy and they spent the entire day clearing a back corner area on the property that would later become a petting zoo.

“The ranch really needed a facelift. There was a lot of miscellaneous junk and things that needed to be cleaned up. That project took the entire day, working non-stop, with only a couple of breaks here and there,” McIntire said. “We cleared out that whole corner. We moved multiple large items to new locations around the property, got rid of a lot of trash, and really cleaned it up.”

He added, “We came back a second time to finish, which meant shutting off water lines that were sticking out of the ground and burying old wires. There was also a burn pit there at one point, so we wound up filling in the burn pit as well.”

While he knew Saddle of Joys provided therapy to special needs children, it wasn’t until he started working with children that he understood just how important the ranch was for those who went there.

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Teacher Honored for Helping Students with Cerebral Palsy

By Angie Haflich


A local fourth-grade teacher has made the list of the top five “Favorite Cerebral Palsy Teachers,” in the nation after being nominated by a parent whose daughter is in her classroom.

“One of my students, her mother nominated me on the Cerebral Palsy website,” Ginny Ortiz, fourth-grade teacher at Georgia Matthews Elementary School, said. “She tried to keep it a secret, but they had to contact me for more information, so then she emailed me one day to let me know that she did it.”

Alicia Ramirez’s daughter, Bailey Ramirez, 9, who has cerebral palsy, is in Ortiz’s class. Ramirez said she has noticed her daughter’s progress since the beginning of the school year.

“Bailey seems to put a lot more effort into her school work and into her physical abilities, her walking, and doing more things for herself and not relying on others so much,” Ramirez said. “It’s something we’ve worked on in the past with her, but Mrs. Ortiz really pushes Bailey, and not just on a school work level, but also to do her best at absolutely everything.

“Mrs. Ortiz has really worked with motivating her and stressing to Bailey that cerebral palsy is not something that she should see as an obstacle, but more like something, where if she works hard, she can overcome things that stand in her way.”

Bailey said Ortiz has made a big difference in her life.

“I think she has really helped me learn new things that I never learned before,” the youngster said.

Ramirez entered Ortiz into the Cerebral Palsy Family Network’s “Our Favorite Teacher” contest, in which 50 teachers from across the nation were nominated for their work with students with cerebral palsy. After viewing each nominee’s short profile, people voted for their favorite. After receiving 944 votes, Ortiz placed third among the 50 other teachers. “I was thrilled to see she had even placed,” Ramirez said. “She told me even just being entered into the contest meant a lot to her, and I’m just thrilled that she placed so well in a national contest.”

She and Ortiz encouraged friends and families to vote, but Ramirez said when she went onto CP Family Network’s website, she noticed people from all over the country voting for Ortiz.

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