Sunday, March 30, 1997
Flood took kids' special belongings

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Neediest Kids of All Flood Relief Fund
BUTLER, Ky. - Mike Wiggins steered his electric wheelchair past the two heaping piles of rubble that used to be his family's belongings.

It was the 14-year-old boy's first visit to what was once his Falmouth home since the Licking River overflowed its banks March 1.

The family computer was in there somewhere. So were his computer games - Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Classic Concentration. Almost two dozen in all.

Then his worst fears were confirmed. He saw a bloated, stained stack of baseball cards.

Mike is smaller than his 7-year-old sister because of brittle-bone disease. He tried to pick up the cards but couldn't reach.

For the first time since the ordeal began, Mike let himself cry.

The Wigginses have moved into a rented home near Butler. Their Falmouth home is a total loss.

Neediest Kids of All has created a flood relief fund to help Mike and other area children. The fund - which will help children who have lost clothing, eyeglasses, hearing aids or other special items in the flood - is accessible to all local schools whose students live in flood-damaged areas.

Mike is at home in the room at the end of the hall. He's a University of Kentucky basketball fan. His collection of UK caps hangs from three of four bedposts. His wheelchair sports a UK license plate. He sleeps on a UK pillowcase and beneath a UK comforter.

What's missing are all the baseball cards and the computer that used to fill hours for a teen-ager who loves sports but can't play. His bones, if they do grow, grow soft and bowed.

''Those things really gave me something to do,'' Mike says. ''I'm going to try and replace my card collection. I had thousands. More than 300 were Reds.''

He has seen only one Reds game in his life. That was in 1991, when they were defending World Series champions. He, of course, bought the complete set of Reds baseball cards at the stadium.

The hometown team is his favorite. He had cards of his personal heroes: Johnny Bench, Reggie Sanders, Chris Sabo.

And Pete Rose. Especially Pete Rose.

''Those mean the most to me because, well, Pete Rose can't be in baseball anymore,'' Mike says.

When the family evacuated their home, Mike faced a split-second decision. Would he take his math books or his GameBoy?

The top math student in his eighth-grade class at Pendleton County Middle School, Mike is almost finished with his second math book.

He took his books.

''I would have taken the GameBoy,'' says his mother, Lisa Wiggins, 33, a counselor at Mason-Corinth Elementary School in Grant County.

Mike passed time doing math problems during the three weeks school was out because of the flood. He wants to be an architect.

He was hoping to get into computer-related graphic design when his parents upgraded the computer.

But now, ''the computer is about 50th on our list of priorities,'' Lisa Wiggins says. Her husband, David, 36, is a contractor. There are three other children: Katie is 7. Another sister, Brooke, is 2. Hunter, the baby brother, is 6 months. The girls lost dolls and clothing in the flood.

''Hunter's oblivious, but Mike has taken the flood better than the rest of us because he has been through so much in his life already,'' Mrs. Wiggins says.

Mike is quick to laugh, even in the wake of the flood. His whole freckled face smiles.

''The flood is kind of like a puzzle,'' he says. ''You get your life back together piece by piece.

''After you found out your family was safe, you worried about your friends and their families.''

Way down on Mike's list of worries is himself. He's a patient big brother to his sisters, who now seem to be releasing pent-up energy and anxiety related to the flood displacement, their mother says.

Brooke likes to climb on the arms of Mike's chair. He smiles at her.

''I wished the flood wouldn't have happened,'' Mike says. ''Now it's just going to take time to get back to normal. I would say that will be a while, though.''

About the fund

As of Friday, the Neediest Kids of All flood relief fund stood at $229,941.83.

Neediest Kids of All matched the first $100,000.

Neediest Kids of All, now in its 46th year, is co-sponsored by The Enquirer and these Jacor television and radio stations: WKRC-TV (Channel 12); WWNK (94.1 FM); WEBN (102.7 FM); WOFX (92.5 FM); WCKY (550 AM); and WLW (700 AM).