GREENBACK, Tenn. (WATE)– The Owenby’s are reaching out to the community for help so they can afford to buy a wheelchair-accessible van for their daughter Athena.

Athena, almost 18 years old, was born four-and-a-half months early.

“She weighed a pound and four ounces, and we were told to not to expect her to make it. But here she is, 18 years later, almost,” Regina Owenby, Athena’s mother, said.

However, Athena has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and shunted hydrocephalus. She is legally blind and non-verbal, and she uses a wheelchair.

“She’s been a challenge for us, but she’s a good one and we love her,” Owenby said.

The family tries to make sure Athena has as much of a normal life as possible.

“She goes to school, and then when we come home, we help her do her exercises, for her legs and stuff. And then that’s about her routine, and then it’s bath time,” Owenby said.

Owenby said that up until recently, she and her husband have been able to carry Athena from the house into their vehicle, and then pack up the wheelchair.

Going on car rides is one of Athena’s favorite activities.

But, as Owenby and her husband get older, it’s become more difficult to carry Athena as she also grows older.

Owenby said recently, she fell while she was carrying Athena from the car to inside the home.

“When I was getting her in the house, I fell with her. And, so I’m thinking, ‘no I don’t want to do that,’ cause if the chair hadn’t have been there, she would have hit the floor first, but I hit the floor first,” Owenby said.

At that point, she knew it was time for the family to buy a wheelchair-accessible van.

However, on her and her husband’s income, Owenby said the $25K-$35K vans she’s been researching are not in their price range.

So, the family is reaching out to the community to help raise enough donations for them to afford, at the very least, a decent down payment. Owenby has been able to raise about $5k so far.

Her niece has created a Facebook fundraiser to help raise more donations.

“I’d like to keep her with me as long as I can, instead of somewhere, you know, have them keep her there. We want to raise her when we can. Instead of having somebody else do it. And it’s just gotten harder on us,” Owenby said.

If you’d like to help the family, here is the website for the fundraiser.

The wheelchair-accessible van would also benefit Athena’s safety.

With little head control, the seat belt in the current vehicle doesn’t help keep Athena’s head up.

“If we’re ever in an accident, she’s gone. Because she’ll go ahead and go forward because she doesn’t have control,” Owenby said.

A wheelchair-accessible van would allow Owenby to strap Athena in her wheelchair in the van, with an extra seat belt.

Owenby said the van would help Athena live a more normal life.

“To be able to do some things that other people can do,” Owenby said.