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3 Pasco families in running for Local Heroes status

Three Pasco County families are in the running for a new wheelchair-accessible van through a nonprofit organization scouring the United States and Canada for Local Heroes.

Selah Clanton, of Zephyrhills, Madison Brightbill, of Spring Hill, and Michelle Boniol, of New Port Richey, are among the contestants.

May is National Mobility Awareness Month, and in conjunction with that designation, National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, based in Tampa, will donate at least four specially equipped vans to the winners.

This is the third year of the contest.

There are 29 Floridians in the contest, including six from Hillsborough County.

The Clantons’ story rose to national prominence when Selah and her brother, Sam, both 8 at the time, were in a side-by-side stroller that plunged into the Erie Canal on Aug. 15, 2012.

The family was in Rochester, N.Y., to mark the fifth anniversary of Sam’s successful cornea transplant at a hospital near there. The children’s father, Jon Clanton, a chaplain at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution and pastor of Grace Church of Zephyrhills, reached into his pocket to grab his cellphone and check the time. He had promised to drive another family to the airport and was trying to stay on schedule.

Moments after Clanton took his hands off the stroller, it rolled away, plunging into the Erie Canal. Clanton, with the help of two medical students, saved the children, but Selah, already developmentally delayed, suffered severe brain damage. She has needed extended medical treatment since.

Last summer the family was denied the 24-hour home care coverage Selah requires. Help from former state legislator and current Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano as well as Florida House speaker Will Weatherford, of Wesley Chapel, restored the insurance coverage.

Brightbill suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. The family had to borrow a car to get her to appointments three hours away, according to her profile on NMEDA’s website.

Boniol was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy in 2012. She is the mother of two sons.

Voting began March 11 and ends May 9. For information, see www.mobilityawareness month.com.

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Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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