Dinae’s wheels: Community rallies to help disabled teen

The North Kitsap community has rallied around a local family with a special needs child to get them a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

“Katie and Freddie Arciaga are two of the sweetest people I know,” said Gina Steiner, managing attorney for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Steiner set up a GoFundMe for the family with a goal of raising at least $25,000 for the vehicle.

“They have three beautiful children, and as happy as they are COVID has been really hard on them, and now their van with wheelchair accessibility is on the brink,” Steiner said.

The Arciagas’ oldest daughter, Dinae, 14, has a form of congenital heart disease, as well as cerebral palsy, so she needs a wheelchair .

“A week after she was born she had open heart surgery. While recovering from the surgery, she got so sick that she was put in NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit). At the time doctors were unable to close the wound from her surgery due to pressure on her heart. After a month and a half in the hospital they were able to close the wound,” Katie Arciaga said. “During that time she was not getting enough oxygen to her brain, causing the brain damage which led to her developing cerebral palsy.”

Dinae has spent much of her life in and out of hospitals, doctors offices and multiple types of therapies, many of which are done in Seattle, requiring the family to travel multiple times a week. Recently the family van fell into disrepair and their financial situation does not allow for them to purchase a new one – let alone one designed for wheelchair accessibility.

“We got a van, that wasn’t wheelchair accessible by any means,” Arciaga said. “We just kind of rigged it up by folding down one of the seats in the back and having the wheelchair back there and her in a booster seat.

“I’ve never really looked at wheelchair-accessible vans because they are so out of our price range, but ultimately I want something that she will be safe and comfortable in.”

When Arciaga was pregnant with her third child, Addison, it became difficult for her to lift Dinae in and out of the van.

It will become even more difficult as Dinae will be receiving a G-Tube, which will help her gain weight, a common issue with those with cerebral palsy.

“I’m hoping to get something that we will be able to leave her in her wheelchair and be able to secure it safely,” Arciaga said.

As of 2 p.m. Jan. 20, the GoFundme set up had raised $15,224.

COVID-19 has made their situation even more difficult.

“This last year has been really hard on us. In April Dinea underwent a dental surgery and then in May she underwent a hip surgery, but with COVID the way that it is, Seattle Children’s was limiting its visitors and, being pregnant at that time, they made an exception to allow my husband to come with me and Dinae,” Arciaga said.

“There were some days where, when we went in there, it felt like there was a new way things were being done.”

Due to Dinae’s age and some of the reported side effects of the coronavirus vaccines, the family is not sure if she would be eligible for the shot.

“That’s something I am currently looking into to see if she is eligible, because she is supposed to start back at school in February,” Arciaga said.