Durham teacher raising money for sibling students with same disability

DURHAM, NC (WTVD) -- A Durham school teacher is trying to raise money for two of her students, a brother and sister, who both have a rare condition that's left them wheelchair bound and in need of help with almost all everyday tasks.

Colleen Stalnaker is a teacher at Morehead Montessori School for the exceptional children's classrooms for multiple disabilities. She is trying to raise money for a conversion kit that will create a wheelchair lift for the Rios's family van.

Stalnaker's student Daniel Rios, 11, and his sister (and Stalnaker's former student) Carla Rios, 13, both have Trisomy 18. It is a rare disorder caused by an extra 18th chromosome that can affect every part of the body, including major organs and can even prove fatal before birth, according to the National Institute of Health.

Their mother, Marlen Rios, said her children both have multiple health complications. She said they weigh about 70 pounds (without their wheelchairs) and carrying all that weight - loading both of them in and out of the car every single day - is a challenge that isn't getting any easier as they grow older.

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Colleen Stalnaker

"They just touch people's lives because you can see their strength in how much they love their children," Stalnaker said. "So that's why we really wanted to help them out."

"The van conversion kit is pretty pricey, and the parents do not have enough money for the conversion kit, so we're raising the money to help fund it," she added.

Stalnaker is trying to raise $10,000 for the wheelchair lift.

Rios told ABC11 that the lift costs $27,000 but that Community Alternatives Programs for Children with the Department of Health and Human Services might cover $10,000-$15,000 of the cost.

Donate to their Go Fund Me Page here.

"Danny feels a lot of pain when he spends too much time on the school bus," Rios said. "It's been a year since he was operated for scoliosis and he has metal from his neck to his hips, and it's easier for me to take him and pick him up from school."

Stephanie Lopez

Rios is a mother of three and works at Walmart part-time as a sales associate, she said she wishes she could do more but said that it's tough when two of her children require round-the-clock attention and that she's lucky to have help from their father and aunts to work the hours she does.

She said asking for money like this is not something she's used to and that the literal weight of her children bearing down on her has taken a toll on her health as well.

"For me this is one of the most difficult things in my life, because I never like to ask anybody for anything and I've never had help - I've fought as hard as I can to overcome obstacles but they're growing and their weight is too much for me, so much so that it's brought on health problems - back aches, a stomach hernia and depression."

Stephanie Lopez

She opened up about her pain and how the joys of motherhood have come at a price.

"I never complain about my life," Rios said. "It's not easy, but when I was pregnant I was excited and so happy because I was waiting for Carla. But after she was born, the doctor told me she has a condition, but that was really hard for me because nobody hopes in their life they're going to have children with special needs."

"I love my kids more than life itself, I can't complain, I just want to have a life filled with less pain, each one weighs 70 pounds."

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Marlen Rios with her children, 11-year-old Daniel Rios and 13-year-old Carla Rios

Stalnaker said she believes people in the community can come together to help alleviate that burden.

"This is going to be life changing for this family because it's an everyday struggle for them," Stalnaker said. "And so if we sit and think 'oh well someone else is going to donate,' it's possible that we might not raise the $10,000 to get the van."

You can read more on their Go Fund Me Page.

Check out more photos of Carla and Danny below.

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