ESSEX — Since he began his scouting career at 7 years old, Nicholas Heuchan had his sights on becoming an Eagle Scout. And on Sunday, March 22, his hard work and dedication paid off as he received his Eagle honors at the Essex Elks Lodge in front of about 190 friends and family, becoming the first scout in Boy Scout Troop 117 to achieve the rank.
Troop 117 is not your typical Boy Scout Troop, and Nicholas Heuchan is not your typical scout. He is blind and battling Juvenile Batten Disease, a fatal genetic disorder.
A resident of Dundalk, he is just one of two people in Maryland who suffer from the disease. The Juvenile form of the disease has side affects such as blindness, seizures, dementia and total mental/physical loss.
Troop 117 is made up of 17 other Scouts from around the eastern Baltimore Country area and is a unique Troop for special needs Scouts.
According to Troop 117 Scoutmaster Rich Gambrill, the turn out for Nicholas Heuchan’s ceremony was one of the largest banquets he has ever seen. Especially for only one scout.
“Nicholas has touched so many lives, not just in Scouting,” said his father John Heuchan.
His two favorite merit badges he enjoyed earning were for coin collecting and cooking, said his parents Tom and Tina Heuchan.
“He really enjoyed feeling the coins,” Tina Heuchan said. “I think it’s because he can’t see. So he liked feeling the different textures and sizes of each coin.”
He also enjoyed learning how to cook because like coin collecting, it was a very hands on activity, his father said. The young scout also liked the fact that after all of his hard work he was allowed to eat.
But Nicholas Heuchan’s Eagle achievement wasn’t an easy one.
His last merit badge took him three years to get. To obtain his Cycling Merit Badge he was required to complete 10, 15, 25 and 50 mile long bike rides.
“This last year he started having balancing issues,” John Heuchan said. “We were afraid he would suffer a seizure while on the bike. And Nick, he was basically scared.”
The family was able to borrow a special bike and eventually were able to finish the needed requirements.
No scout is allowed to deviate from the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, John Heuchan said. So Scouts like Nicholas Heuchan have to be creative.
To earn the Communications Merit Badge scouts are required to give a five minute speech, he said. Most scouts would use que cards to help them along.
“Because Nick is blind he isn’t able to use que cards,” John Heuchan said. “So I was allowed to act as his que cards. I couldn’t tell him what to say, but I could give him key words.”
A student at the Maryland School for the Blind, Nicholas knew when it was time to accomplish his Eagle Scout Service Project he wanted to give back to his school. For his project he recruited volunteers and constructed four handicap accessible picnic tables late last year.
Unlike typical picnic tables most are familiar seeing at parks, schools or in backyards, the design Nicholas Heuchan picked to build has no benches. Instead there are four seats on each corner of the table with a large open space between the seats which allows room for someone bound to a wheelchair to sit comfortably at the table.
He first wanted to join the scouts after Tom Ernst of Pack 304 held an assembly at Norwood Elementary School in Dundalk introducing students to the Cub Scouts.
A few years later in 2008 Gambrill formed Troop 117. A father of a special needs child himself, Gambrill wanted a troop where his child and others could go, fully participate at their own paces and make friends.
Because of his disabilities, Nicholas Heuchan didn’t have the same time restriction to achieve his Eagle rank by his 18th birthday. However, he was still able to finish all of the needed requirements one month before his 18th birthday.
By Dan Baldwin in Avenue News