“If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it,” states the plaque above Dan and Amy DeMatthew’s fireplace. Since Dan’s bicycle accident in August 2009, that left him wheelchair bound and living with quadriplegia, the Racine couple has witnessed God’s hand.
Although both spent years of volunteering in their community, St. Catherine High School, and their parish, St. Patrick Catholic Church, both in Racine, neither expected the outpouring of love from others.
Touched by the couple’s positive attitude, courage and story, Paul Davis Restoration & Remodeling of Southeast Wisconsin offered assistance. Like a scaled down version of TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” the company donated time, labor and materials last year to update the DeMatthew’s kitchen to make it easier for Dan, a former administrative manager for the city of Racine, to navigate in his motorized wheelchair.
The project included demolition of the kitchen and removal of cabinets, countertops and flooring. The project has a sustainability theme with recycled cabinetry from another residence going into the kitchen, reuse of stone countertop and the donation of the DeMatthew’s former countertops and cabinets to Habitat Restore in Racine.
According to Allen Degner, marketing representative for Paul Davis Restoration, the month-long project included reconfiguring the kitchen’s layout.
“We wanted to add a double oven so there was a lower one that Dan could use, and place a microwave within reachable distance for him as well,” he said. “We wanted to give him an accessible workspace and desk that he can wheel up to, and we wanted to give them a dishwasher to make cleaning up easier for him as well.”
After reading the DeMatthew’s story in your Catholic Herald, Meg Boyle, an owner, as well as vice president and chief financial officer of Paul Davis Restoration, thought it would make a good project for the company’s Restoring America program. For the past decade, the program has been an annual home improvement initiative designed to help those who cannot afford to or are physically unable to fix their homes.
“Paul Davis Restoration & Remodeling of Southeast Wisconsin participates in ‘Restoring America’ because we truly believe we can make a difference in the quality of a person’s life by making much-needed home repairs,” explained Boyle. “Once we chose the DeMatthew’s family as ourrecipients, we received commitments of labor and materials from our valued venders and tradespeople. They were all ready to help.”
Unlike their previous volunteer projects, renovating the DeMatthew kitchen was personal for Boyle, who has fond memories as Amy’s classmate at St. Joseph Grade School in Wauwatosa.
“We have reconnected after losing touch for a while,” she said. “Amy comes from a large family and we kind of grew up together. From their parents, they all learned to embrace their Catholic faith, and have committed their lives to giving back to their church, school and community. Their parents were so active in the parish and even though they have since moved to Libertyville, continue to give back to this day. I recently met up with Amy’s mom and I was touched when she showed me her prayer book that she has carried with her for years.”
Boyle knew their situation was perfect for the company’s belief in giving back to the community.
“I came across this story and whether I knew Amy and Dan or not, it was a heartfelt story about a couple who have gone through tragedy. They needed work done at their house to make it more accessible for their husband,” Boyle said.
The many volunteers working in their home are humbling to Amy and Dan. Some three years after the accident, the couple continues to be overwhelmed by the compassion of others.
“We have always been in the state that others need more than us and we’re used to being the ones to help others,” said Amy. “And like Dan has said, ‘We have been so fortunate through all of this.’ It’s incredible that there are so many people like Meg Boyle and her brother, (Dan Druml), who are so giving and willing to help us out. We feel very blessed that people are doing stuff for us to make our lives so much easier.”
Since Dan’s accident, which resulted in cervical fusion, he underwent surgery to implant an intrathecal Baclofen pump to help with the chronic muscle spasms in his neck, as well as additional surgery to alleviate herniated disks in his lower back. Through physical therapy, acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy and chiropractic care, Dan was walking a bit with the aid of crutches, but because they may have been causing nerve damage under his arms, he now uses a walker and powerchair.
“There has been a lot of gain; the back surgery set him back a bit, but he has become more independent with the pump and the surgery,” said Amy, adding, “He wants to keep getting better and be less dependent on others.”
Other setbacks included a fall in June 2011, when Dan fractured his left clavicle and regained independence through physical therapy for simple things like eating, and again last April when he didn’t seem to be progressing in occupational and physical therapies. After an eight-week stay at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, Dan returned home with some improvement, but is working to build his physical strength, Amy said. They’ve also sought help to combat his feelings of hopelessnes, so he’s regained the strength and courage to keep fighting, she said.
Since Amy has returned to her job as a recreational therapist for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, she has needed to rely on sons Joe, 29, who lives with his wife Lindsay a few blocks away, and Jamie, 24, who’s still at home, as well as other volunteers to assist Dan at home, and bring him to his medical appointments.
With the remodeled kitchen, Dan takes another step toward independence. Amy said he can get into the refrigerator and taking dishes to the sink on his own.
“He wants to work harder to live and work in a normal environment and live as normal a life as possible,” she said. “This new kitchen will really help him to be able to do this and I can’t thank Meg and (Dan) enough for what they have done to help make this possible.”
With all of the abrupt changes in their lives, Amy admitted she lost a part of herself for a while, but a crack in a piece of patio stone made all the difference.
“We have had so many people help us, with a wheelchair ramps, building an accessible patio, helping with the bedroom – all things to make Dan’s life easier. Dan is able to go into the garage and go outside to the patio in the backyard all on his own now,” she said. “But one day, I just felt like I wanted everything to go back to the way it was where we were the ones volunteering. I walked outside to sit on the patio and was so upset when I saw this crack in our beautiful new patio.”
Pondering the imperfection for a few moments, Amy suddenly realized perhaps the crack was a message from God telling her that no one and no situation is perfect, and all things can serve a purpose in life.
“I never want to get caught up in the material of anything and it is so easy to do that,” she said, tearfully. “A friend of Dan’s sent us a book called ‘Devotions for Every Day of the Year,’ and every single time I have opened this book, there has been an appropriate passage for me, Dan and even for our sons at the right time we needed it.”
Through their journey of tragedy, pain and disappointment, Dan and Amy continue to be cognizant of God’s work in their lives and the work he is doing in the lives of others through the help they have received.
“We have trusted in the Lord before and now that rough times have come, it has made us stronger and work harder,” Amy said. “Life isn’t always on an easy slope and we often get content with things. A little bump in the road wakes us up a bit and refocuses us on what is important. There are so many people willing to help us out – people often lose faith in humans, but there are some really good people around who want to help others and we are so grateful.”