The world as most people know it is full of bright colors and distinct sounds, but the way 7-year-old Ricky Wentz experiences the world isn’t the way most people do.
“Ricky is 7 years old and he is blind and deaf. He has what they call global developmental delays,” said Ricky’s adoptive mother Tori Wentz.
Ricky struggles to sit up, stand, or walk on his own. He relies on his adoptive mother as well as a nurse to be his eyes, ears and limbs for everything he does.
Recently, a surgery gave Ricky the opportunity to experience the world.
“It was pretty amazing,” Tori Wentz said. “He had never heard anything before and when they turned the sound on he was quiet. He didn’t do anything. He stopped all the movement and stuff he does constantly and he was quiet and you could hear him thinking ‘what is that?’”
A Cochlear Implant, an electronic device that works as an implanted hearing aid, allowed Ricky to hear for the first time.
“It made me feel good. I hope someday, even if he doesn’t speak or understand what I’m saying, if he can hear our voices he’ll know he’s not alone,” Tori Wentz said.
Even with this monumental development, a normal day in the Wentz apartment is still full of challenges.
His need for intensive care does not bother Tori Wentz. She’s just thankful they found each other.
“You know I always wanted to be a mom and I didn’t think I’d get to be. So, when his mom came to my church and my pastor called me it felt like it was something that was meant to be,” Wentz said.
Ricky was born in Ghana. His birth mother brought Ricky to America in search of better medical care. She found the help she was looking for at a church in Virginia, not long before she had to return to her native country.
“Her visa ran out and she had to go back home, and he couldn’t go back home. So, we started talking about adoption options,” Tori Wentz said.
Tori Wentz officially adopted Ricky in February 2013. Ever since then, she’s given up a full-time job to devote herself to helping Ricky develop.
They spend a considerable amount of time with doctors and specialized speech and hearing therapists. Despite not beginning therapy until age 4, he is bulldozing expectations.
“All the therapists we take him to, whether its speech or whatever, they’re all so amazed by how well he does,” Tori Wentz said.
As her son develops and learns to understand, Wentz is constantly looking for ways to help a boy missing two key senses experience life.
“I wanted to make this texture wall so he could experience different things. I just mentioned a rough idea and I’m not mechanical I had no idea how to put it together,” Tori Wentz said.
That’s when she picked up the phone and called Mr. Handyman in West Knoxville.
“I look over at Shelly and she’s crying. I wasn’t certain what was going on,” said Allen Ellison, owner of Mr. Handyman.
Through tears, the administrative assistant, explained why.
“She told me, ‘I was speaking to this lady and she has a son that’s deaf and blind. She was asking about this wall to help him with his feel and touch,” Ellison said.
The whole office got to work. Sheets of pegboard were built into a large rectangle and painted white.
“Everyone was talking about ideas and looking at things. Little Ricky has become part of our daily life at Mr. Handyman,” Ellison said.
Ellison and the rest of the Mr. Handyman team built this wall as a gift, free of charge.
“It’s just so enriching. It fills your heart and you know. I’m going to tear up a little,” Ellison said.
The final product is covered with mundane items that are completely new to Ricky. Beads, a door stopper and a basket full of stress balls are attached to the boards.
“This gives him a lot of opportunities to touch and experience things. It’s hard for him to orient himself and get around the room and this is all right there where he can reach it. It encourages him to stand up and move around. He can cruise around that thing, he’s got independence, I don’t have to carry him,” said Wentz.
Ricky’s mind may always be a mysterious place to his mother and other people in his life.
“I wonder what kind of colors he sees in his mind compared to what we see. There’s a lot going on and I don’t know what it is and I just like to imagine,” Tori Wentz said.
Imaging what Ricky’s life will grow to be is something Tori Wentz thinks about often. She doesn’t know how much or if her son will develop. To ease the uneasiness that comes uncertainty, Wentz finds peace in her efforts.
“I want whatever is possible for him. For us to have done everything we can to give him the opportunity to become as independent as possible,” Tori Wentz said.
Tori Wentz said Ricky loves his sensory box, and plays with it often.
(© 2016 WBIR)
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