Many hands help Kenai woman get rolling again

‘You’ve got to help people’

Connie Lucas sat Friday morning rocking in her wheelchair. She watched the construction outside from her porch.

 

She and her husband, Ken, have lived in their home in Kenai almost seven years, but last year a stroke paralyzed the left side of her body and bound her to a wheelchair. 

Now the 65-year-old resident said she relies on her husband and his sister, her two sisters, and a caregiver.

She wishes she was more independent.

“My husband’s good enough to do all the house work and cooking for me,” she said. “They don’t want me to use the stove either.”

Outside of the enclosed porch, circular saws wined. It began to smell like sawdust as Team Depot members set the foundation for a wheelchair ramp that would wrap around the porch.

Home Depot sent the seven-person community outreach team with $849 of lumber after Krissy Gribbin found out Connie and Ken needed help, Gribbin, one of the team members, said. 

Last Christmas, after Connie returned from the hospital, her husband began construction on their first wheelchair ramp. 

But it was cold, the 65-year-old said, and he couldn’t do it alone. If Home Depot hadn’t sent a crew then also to help, he would not have completed the ramp in the minus 10-degree temperatures.

Before the first ramp, he said he was pushing his wife up and down the steps, and neither of them liked that. It was too jarring, he said.

But their old ramp was too steep; Connie couldn’t be on it alone, her husband said, and it was too much effort to roll her up it.

Connie’s new ramp will be more gradual. 

On average Home Depot completes six community projects a year, said Kim Neal, one of the Team Depot captains. 

“I’m so glad this is going on so I can get out,” Connie said.

But Connie and Ken still have challenges despite Home Depot’s help.

When Connie lost her mobility, Ken retired. The state has since granted Connie Medicaid coverage, and “it’s been extremely helpful,” Ken said.

He said they would be in the “sink hole” with out it.

But it is a lifestyle change for them.

Ken resents their Medicaid dependency, and finding a compatible caregiver is a challenge. 

Not only do caregivers need to be knowledgeable, Ken said, but they need also to be compatible with Connie.

It’s a difficult combination, he said, because their training is not rigorous enough.

“We had one here and she thought she was going to run the house,” he said, “but she quickly found out where the front door was.”

They are currently in between caregivers.

“There’s a lot of challenges,” he said, “and you never know what they are until you have to deal with it.”

They had to widen the doorways in their house to accommodate Connie’s wheelchair, “and she’s got the smallest wheelchair they make,” Ken said.

People can be nasty to them, too, he said.

In grocery stores shoppers sometimes rush by them because Connie and Ken move too slowly, he said, and their favorite restaurant can not fit Connie in her wheelchair.

“We’ve both dealt with a lot of stuff,” he said, “but we just move on.”

They remain optimistic, he said.

He enjoys the exercise pushing his wife in her chair, and he said the Team Depot crew is working well.

Their youngest son who took a few hours out of work to help agrees.

“Just the thought that we still have companies locally that care for people (is great),” said Sean, 33.

After watching the construction for a few hours, more people arrived to help and Connie rolled into the house.

By the afternoon Team Depot had completed the deck, and the ribs Ken had bought with the gift card IGA donated started to smoke. 

“In this world now — you’ve got to help people,” said John Baker, a Team Depot member. “You just got to.”

 

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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