James Baxter of Oberon given a new Toyota van

SURPRISE: James Baxter was presented with a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle for his birthday. He celebrated with family, friends and supporters last Sunday.
SURPRISE: James Baxter was presented with a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle for his birthday. He celebrated with family, friends and supporters last Sunday.

JAMES Baxter received the surprise of his life on his 22nd birthday on Sunday when he was presented with a brand new Toyota van which will be fitted out to accommodate his wheelchair.

NEW WHEELS: Beth O'Shea, Oberon Rotary president Brenda Lyon, Toyota Group Fleet manager Michael McNamara and James Baxter checking out the new van.

NEW WHEELS: Beth O'Shea, Oberon Rotary president Brenda Lyon, Toyota Group Fleet manager Michael McNamara and James Baxter checking out the new van.

It will give him more freedom and will transport him safely to destinations that were simply not previously possible.

Mr Baxter, who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a muscle degeneration disease, has not been able to go to many places because his older vehicle has travelled nearly 700,000 kilometres and is full of rust.

Under the umbrella of Oberon Rotary, family, friends and the Oberon community have rallied and raised more than $80,000 in just a few months.

The new vehicle was presented to Mr Baxter as a surprise for his birthday. He and his mother Beth O'Shea had no idea what was going on.

"We were told to go outside and we were not sure why," Ms O'Shea said.

"I struggled to hold back the tears when I saw everyone standing around a brand new 12-seater van and singing happy birthday to James.

"People are good at keeping secrets - and this was a very good secret to keep.

"There were people there that we didn't even know."

Mr Baxter said he was wondering why the mayor of Oberon was at his party. 

"Now I know. I got to hold the keys to the van and read the speedo, which only has 65 kilometres on the odometer," he said.

Ms O'Shea said having the van would be life-changing.

“We can go somewhere and we don't have to worry about breaking down,” she said.

"Bessie [the old vehicle] struggled to get up hills and when we broke down in Bathurst a few months ago, it cost us a lot to get a taxi home.

"All these costs come out of James’ budget. I have to watch every penny as we have to pay for carers and physiotherapists plus the day-to-day costs of living.

"When we go somewhere overnight we have to take the commode, lifter, breathing machine, a carer and James' wheelchair. That's why we need a van with plenty of room."

Ms O'Shea said after his operation in 2012, Mr Baxter grew 10 centimetres, as he now has two steel rods from neck to hips and 31 screws to keep his spine aligned.

"He is very tall and all the lifting has taken its toll on my back. I've got arthritis in my spine and neck and the top vertebrae are locked in.

"But James' health is really good. His heart and lungs are really good. He takes a lot of vitamins and with the exercises he seems to stay healthy.

"We have to have check-ups every 12 months and some of James' friends with the same condition are not doing so well. It's the muscle deterioration we have to keep an eye on.

"I still have to turn James throughout the night."

Ms O'Shea and Mr Baxter said they were incredibly grateful to the fundraising committee and especially to Julie and Ross Gibson.

Mr Baxter said one of his first trips will be going around Mount Panorama.

"Our old van didn't like hills, but the new turbo diesel Toyota should have no problems at all."

FUNDRAISING

IT was one of Mr Baxter's carers, Sashi Dean, who first raised concerns over the deterioration of Mr Baxter’s van and the effect on his life.

Oberon Rotary president Brenda Lyon took up the baton, along with Mr Baxter's grandmother Lyn Boswell, Suzie White and Belinda Massey. They formed a committee and began meeting weekly with the aim of buying a new Toyota HiAce.

"Business houses happily accepted donation bottles in their shops and many offered prizes for raffles," Ms Boswell said. "Raffles and events were held, with people who didn't even know James offering to help.

"Oberon High made a video for James and put it on Facebook. This was played at every fundraising event.

"I have been to every event and watched children putting 10 cents into a jar and others have selflessly donated thousands of dollars over the past four months.

"The generosity of all sectors in this community has been overwhelming.

"The involvement of Oberon Rotary added another dimension to this campaign. Week by week, I have become more aware of the breadth, strength and capacity of this world organisation. Rotary has truly enabled this campaign to reach its goal.

"The project was registered with Rotary Australia Benevolent Society and this attracted thousands of dollars from far and wide.

"But no-one could see what was about to happen: Ross Gibson and his wife Julie offered to contribute the balance of the funds required to make this dream come true. The family are truly blown away and this will help give James and Beth the freedom to participate in the community.

"We also thank Michael McNamara from Bathurst Toyota for his role in securing this new vehicle and working with us to get it here, in secret, today."