Wheelchair ramp will be boy's Christmas gift Many offer to help family that ran ad to sell Elmo


Christmas may not come until tomorrow, but Rodney Diggs already knows what present he's getting.

Thanks to dozens of people who responded to an article in yesterday's Sun, 12-year-old Rodney, who since birth has been stricken with a soft-bone disease, will get a ramp for his wheelchair. Callers to his Pikesville home offered donations of money, material, labor and ramps so that Rodney would be able to keep the Tickle Me Elmo doll his 64-year-old grandparents were offering for sale to pay for a ramp.

"I tell you, all I've done today is get up, brush my teeth and get on the telephone," said Isabelle Diggs, Rodney's grandmother. "Different people all day have been calling, saying 'Let him keep the doll, but we want to help with the ramp.' "

People like Kathy Goldman of Towson were calling. As Christmas approached, Goldman was feeling blue yesterday morning. Her 26-year-old daughter, Susan B. Smallwood, who overcame the limitations of muscular dystrophy to become a mother and a special education teacher, was killed Oct. 9 in an automobile accident.

Her daughter had used a wheelchair since childhood and often arranged to get wheelchairs for people who needed them. When Goldman read about Rodney, she knew what she'd be able to do with the metal ramp Susan had used. "I would love to give it to him," she said. "Because that's what Susan would have done."

"I felt down this morning," she said. "This gave me a lift, it really did."

Rose Murphy of Statesville, N.C., who is visiting her son in Baltimore, said she was so touched by Rodney's story that she wanted to send the family some money. "God works in wonderful ways, that this Elmo came into this family's life and this was the first step to his getting that ramp."

Rodney has been stricken since childbirth with osteogenesis imperfecta, which causes brittle bones that fracture easily. It is an inherited disorder that affects between 15,000 and 20,000 people in the United States.

When Rodney was born, doctors didn't think he'd live more than six months. He has suffered between 200 and 500 fractures. He gets around in a battery-powered wheelchair and would use the ramp to get in and out of the house without having to have his grandparents carry him up and down the front steps.

His grandfather, Roland Diggs, a retired building manager for the Baltimore public schools, had bought the Tickle Me Elmo as a present for Rodney. But when he heard about the hysteria for this year's hot toy, with some people willing to pay as much as $1,000, he decided he would try to sell it to raise money for the ramp.

He was offered as much as $250 for the doll, but most of the calls he got yesterday offering help for the ramp urged him to keep the doll for Rodney.

Roland Diggs said he got at least three calls from people who had ramps they wanted to give, and many more offering money or other donations. He has made arrangements with a contractor, who will build the ramp for him for free after the holidays.

As for the doll, it looks like Elmo is headed for a new home.

"Rodney, he said the doll is more for a younger person," the elder Diggs said of his grandson, who is more partial to Nintendo video games. "Me and Rodney said we would give it to another handicapped kid, younger than he is."

Pub Date: 12/24/96

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad