Boy who lost his limbs to meningitis starts kindergarten

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POSTED: Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 2:00pm

UPDATED: Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 2:04pm

Three years ago Austin Schoppert Coffee lost his arms and legs to a rare form of bacterial meningitis. Since then he's grown and learned how to adapt to his new life. Now, he's getting used to a new routine: school.

"He loves to color. He loves to play with Play-Doh. He's a little artist," says his mother, Heather Coffee.

This fall Austin started school.

"For me, I was scared. But he did really good," jokes Coffee.

Austin's teacher will tell you the same thing. When Tracy Schmidt first welcomed him to her kindergarten classroom, she knew it wouldn't be like other first days.

"There's a lot of questions of 'How do I do this?' 'How do I do that?' 'How can I make his life easier and be successful in school?', but after that first week, the aides and I were like, I mean, our mouths were on the floor half the time," says Schmidt.

Schmidt says when it comes to keeping up with his 18 classmates, Austin doesn't need much help. She's modified some of the school's "tools", like the scissors and a computer mouse, so he's able to do his own work in his own way.

"He's just like anybody else in here," says Schmidt. "The only thing he needs help with in here is when he comes in here with his wheelchair, he needs somebody to unbuckle him."

That independence impresses Schmidt and other teachers who work with him every day.

They want to help him take those skills from school to home.

"With Austin, our goal is to make him as independent as possible," explains Schmidt.

"Just seeing how much success he has at school, wanting to carry that over into his everyday life--it just seems like the right thing to do," says Holly Peterson, another kindergarten teacher at Austin's school.

What these teachers are doing is raising money to help Austin's family move from this apartment into a house.

"He's amazing in the classroom, and the things he can do. It'll just be good to get him in a house that feels he can do all those things there, too," says Peterson.

"He needs a home. He needs a home where he can do things independently," says Schmidt.

It started with T-shirts featuring Austin's drawing of his future home, and he's already making plans for it.

"He wants a green house, and he wants a trampoline outside," says Coffee.

Coffee has some ideas, too.

"I want to put a doorknob, like, his height, doorknob down she he's able to open the door himself, some sort of bathroom for him because he's getting older," explains Heather. "We're not looking at anything fabulous. We just want the basics."

With a few fundraisers in the books, the fund for Austin's house is is growing.

Schmidt and Peterson have a list of ideas for other ways to encourage donations, and they hope their community continues to rally around this soon-to-be 6-year-old.

"In this community, we all help each other. We work together, and it's just a really good outlet to allow other people to help," says Peterson.

For now, though, everyone's focus is on keeping Austin learning and growing.

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