MORRISTOWN, Tenn — An East Tennessee teen is on a mission to get the money for a new set of wheels.
But this new ride wouldn’t be for her.
Seventeen- year-old Rylee Linkous is raising money to buy a wheelchair-accessible van for her brother, 9-year-old Xander Linkous.
“I’m just trying to give him the best life I can as his sister,” said the 17-year-old Morristown West High School student.
Xander was born premature. At just 5 weeks old, Rylee said their drug-addicted mother smothered him, leaving him profoundly brain damaged.
Nine years later, he’s unable to walk, talk, eat or swallow. But Rylee doesn’t see her brother in terms of his problems.
“He’s just a very outgoing and smart and brave little boy in my opinion,” she said.
Rylee and her grandmother with whom they live are Xander’s primary caregivers. One of Rylee’s jobs is to get her 50-lb. brother into their non-wheelchair-accessible car.
“I normally pick him up myself, and I carry him,” said Rylee.
It works for now, but Rylee worries about what will happen when Xander gets older and when she graduates from high school.
“I want to be able to go off to college and know he’s safe and able to go out and do the things he needs to do and the things he wants to do,” Rylee said.
So, she launched a fundraiser to buy her brother a wheelchair-accessible van — an ambitious project for any high school student because the van will cost about $35,000.
Donations are being collected through a GoFundMe account.
“I mostly started this in hopes of getting him the care he needs and deserves,” Rylee said.
With help from a high school teacher, her campaign caught the attention of Morristown native turned New York based actor Michael Abbott, Jr.
“I think she’s really worried about going away to college and Xander having some independence and ability to travel at his leisure,” Abbott said between shoots for the movie “Killers of the Flower Moon” directed by Martin Scorsese.
Abbott’s done this before. Last year, he helped a Morristown teen in need of a wheelchair accessible van.
The actor’s efforts prompted donations from the public, including a sizeable gift from pop icon and actor Justin Timberlake
“I’m fortunate enough to have a medium where I can get in touch with people,” Abbott said.
Abbott, who’s on location filming the movie “Killers of the Flower Moon” directed by Martin Scorsese, says he’s touched by the boy and his sister back in his hometown.
“They basically sent him home to die and it’s nine years later. And if that’s not a fighter, I don’t know what a fighter is. And I think we kind of owe it to this kid to give him a chance.”