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His pedal's to the metal

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Like many 15-year-olds, Casey Prengal dreams of getting his driver’s license on his 16th birthday in May.

He loves cars and movies about fast ones. Casey researches cars on the Internet, and has a wish-list: A black 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse, a teal 1995 Honda Civic, a black or blue 2001 Honda Integra, a blue 2003 Subaru Impreza and a black Nissan Skyline.

He’s saving up his allowance to buy one of them. He’s especially smitten with the Impreza, which, he said, “goes from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds!” In the meantime, he loves speedracing movies, listens to heavy-metal music, reads about cars and plays with his X-Box.

“I love X-Box! Gotta thank Bill Gates for that,” Casey said.

And, he does his exercises.

But unlike most of his peers, Casey also dreams of the day he can step off the motorized cart he uses for transportation, walk to and get into his car.

Casey was born with achondroplasia, a genetic condition that results in disproportionately short arms and legs and small stature. At 4 feet, 1 inch tall, Casey has dwarfism. As time passes, achondroplasia also interferes with bone development, causing bow legs — medically known as Genu varum. This can be corrected by surgery, and in March 2002, Casey’s left leg underwent corrective surgery. Casey and his mother, Bonnie, plan to have surgery on his right leg as soon as he loses some more weight and gains more strength and movement through physical therapy.

Casey is homeschooled because a full day in the classroom is too demanding for his body. But he hopes some day to attend Todd Beamer High School.

Like most teens, Casey wants to get his driver’s license. Bonnie researched several commercial driving instruction companies, and all of them declined to teach Casey how to drive, she said.

So Bonnie did her own research and learned that people of short stature can drive with a few car adaptations.

She approached Federal Way Public Schools with suggestions for car adaptation. Occupational therapist Russ Campbell determined Casey was fit to drive with the help of several alterations in a school district-owned car –– pedal extensions, a disengagable airbag and seat cushions.

Mike Grady, a traffic safety teacher for the school district, volunteered to teach Casey to drive.

“As far as driving, Casey is as confident a driver as I have ever had, if not better. And he will get his license,” Grady said. “He never gives up. I think he’s more motivated than the average student.”

Casey and Grady met about eight times over the summer to drive together. After learning the basics and mastering how to back around a corner, Casey discovered he loved accelerating. He fantasizes about drag racing and relishes his time on the highway with Grady.

“He’s never said ‘I can’t,’” Grady said.

Grady agreed to continue driving with Casey in order for him to accumulate the 50 hours of behind-the-wheel experience necessary for a teen to get a driver’s license.

Casey paid the same amount as other students for driving classes –– $325 for nine weeks. Grady said the payment can be split into three parts.

Marie Bailey Reed, physical therapist at Good Samaritan Hospital’s pediatric unit in Puyallup, is helping Casey strengthen his body, increase his standing time and increase body movement.

“Initially he was real cautious about wanting to do any standing or any walking,” Reed said. “In therapy now, he began to push himself a little bit more. He’s really gotten a really good attitude about taking on the exercises.”

They started working together in April, and Casey has grown more determined since then. Despite the post-op prognosis of the surgeon who operated on his left leg, Casey believes he will be able to walk some day.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said.

He’ll continue with physical therapy, he’ll continue to watch his weight, he’ll begin swim therapy and he’ll endure another straightening operation — this time on his right leg.

Casey mused that when he’s older, he might make a living as a car designer. But for now, he is focusing on getting his driver’s license and preparing himself to be able to walk.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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