Family receives wheelchair-accessible van from CSS in Columbus, Ohio

September 28, 2020

It was about a year ago that Kala Freeman decided to swallow her pride and ask for help in acquiring a wheelchair accessible van for her family.

She and husband Bradley Barrick have a blended family of six kids, including 11-year-old Danielle “Dani” Hardesty. Dani was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after contracting bacterial meningitis when just 2-months-old. She’s non-verbal and non-mobile. Dani is spastic and has daily seizures.

Whenever they go somewhere they have to take two vehicles. Getting the kids in and out while finding adjacent parking spaces is always a pain.

Freeman admits with a laugh that their luck with cars has been terrible. A van they were able to buy at the first of the year via $5,000 raised through a GoFundMe account suffered a cracked head gasket just this past week. That would have been devastating, but she knew an answer to their prayers was on the way from Catholic Social Services (CSS).

God’s will to fill a need

CSS on Thursday delivered a 2010 Ford Van with a wheelchair lift that seats eight to the family’s Denman Street home. It has 189,000 miles, but has received routine maintenance.

David Desender, East Region Director for CSS, is a Coshocton native. He still reads the Coshocton Tribune online and was moved by a story he read about Dani’s plight and the drive for a wheelchair accessible van. He thought, “if we can ever help this family, I’d sure like to do it.”

He saved the story on his computer, just in case. Recently, the organization received a new van for its transportation program. It provides non-emergency rides for medical appointments to seniors and veterans. One van was to be retired and Desender knew exactly where it should go instead of gathering dust in a back lot.

“It’s in pretty good shape and will hopefully last these guys quite a long time,” Desender said of the van. “I think it’s God’s calling. God directed me that there was somebody in need and at Catholic Social Services that’s our mission, to help those in need. This matches our mission perfectly.”

Rachel Lustig, President and CEO of CSS, headquartered in Columbus, said they haven’t donated a van through their transportation department before, but helping people acquire vehicles is part of what they do. CSS serves 23 counties in central and southern Ohio.

She wishes they could give a van to everyone who needed one. However, when she read the Tribune’s article, Lustig knew this was a family that embodied the ideals the organization champions.

“When we saw the story, we were so inspired by this family, by the way they come together and care for Dani’s health,” Lustig said. “When they reached out and asked for help through the Go Fund Me, that takes a lot of courage to do that. That’s what our values are at Catholic Social Services. We are an organization that inspires to be courageous in the way we act.”

Transportation woes

In September 2019, Freeman had to rush Dani to urgent care in Columbus for a low temperature and other issues due to her cerebral palsy. Her husband was away for work and she’s didn’t trust taking her vehicle that far. A nurse who helps with Dani drove them to Columbus in her small Honda Civic, meaning there wasn’t room for Dani’s wheelchair.

The incident made Freeman realize she needed a better transportation option. They were at the hospital for 12 hours and Kala was on the phone most of the time contacting family and friends to see if anyone could help her get a wheelchair accessible vehicle. She then decided to start a GoFundMe page.

Before the year was up, they had hit the $5,000 goal. The money was used for purchase and repairs on a 1994 van with 118,000 miles from a local family. It had sat for a long time and had some mechanical and equipment issues. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

When Freeman was contacted by CSS she was told they had a van to donate and it had a wheelchair lift. She was blown away when first seeing it on Thursday, especially the size.

“I said ‘well, it’s a bus and that’s what we need,’” Freeman said with a laugh. “We have six kids under 11. If we go out just somewhere to eat, we have to take two separate vehicles. With our old van being broken down that hasn’t been possible. Even before it was broken down, it was trying. It was hard to do that and have everybody comfortable.”

The new van couldn’t have come at a better time as Dani has outpatient surgery scheduled next week at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Dani has a sore on her tailbone to be debrided. It’s the first she’s had, but Freeman said her daughter’s skin is breaking down more as she gets older.

Dani also spent about a month at Nationwide in May because she was septic and had pneumonia. Trips to Columbus are frequent and Freeman had to borrow cars or find a ride most of the time. This has become harder as Freeman’s grandmother has cancer and Freeman’s mother has been helping to take care of her.

“Unless it’s a week to two weeks in advance and I say ‘Hey, can I use your vehicle to load (Dani) in and out of and to take her,’ sometimes it can be done, but other times it’s a lot harder to schedule it,” Freeman said.

Additionally, Dani is in fourth grade at Hopewell School for those with developmental disabilities. Because of COVID-19 worries, Dani hasn’t started classes at the building yet this year. Dani has to have a nurse with her at school. The nurse would also need to be present if Dani rides the bus, so it’s best for Freeman to transport her back and forth.

“If she’s more comfortable up in her chair and being able to be locked in and going, the transportation part is so much easier,” Freeman said. “If I have to pull over for something like to administer seizure medication or suction or clear her airway it’s so much easier to do when she’s sitting upright and in her chair.”

Freeman can’t express her appreciation enough to CSS and the local community for the support their family has received. The new van will change all their lives for the better.

“Thank you doesn’t even come close to it, because not only is this going to affect Danielle, but it’s going to affect our whole family. We’ll be able to take trips, go out to eat and do certain things we weren’t able to do with the whole group of us,” Freeman said.

[This article is used with the permission of the author, Leonard Hayhurst, who writes for the Coshocton Tribune.]

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