Author: Tompkins, Dave
Date published: December 1, 2012
There are key moments in every marriage, and one of the most significant is buying your first home. It means security and stability, but finding the right one can put stress on any marriage, and it is especially difficult when you have mobility issues. Last issue, SpeciaLiving introduced you to two newlywed couples - Mike and Jennifer (Darmon) Belawetz and Chris and Rachelle (Fricdman) Chapman - who married despite accidents that left both brides disabled. Now, trie couples want to have their own homes and have learned how difficult getting a wheelchair-friendly home can be.
Jennifer and Mike
"We're building our own home so FIl be happy that I will actually be able to do things on my own and gain some independence," said Jennifer. "In the meantime, we're still living with our parents, so they are still telling us what to do."
Jennifer made headlines and was an Internet sensation when she walked down the aisle in early 201 1 . She was just 25 and had been dating Mike for two years when a car accident in 2008 fractured her spine and meant she would have to use a wrieelchair. Two years of surgeries and hours of therapy, gave her the ability to walk the short distance to the altar, but hasn't given her the freedom to navigate most homes - especially her parents.
"It has been slightly modified, like the lift in the garage so I can get out of the car and into the home, and a ramp has been added to the back deck," said Jennifer. "The downstairs bathroom also a roll -in shower and the bathroom cabinets have been removed so I can use it now. I haven't been in the basement in two years."
The changes have made living with her parents a little easier, but the new 2700 sq. foot ranch home in Colchester, Ontario, means that Jennifer and Mike will finally live in the same place and more independence for her.
"The home was designed by an architect and an occupational therapist, so G 11 be able to do more," said Jennifer. "There will be wider doorways and hallways, with no thresholds, so I'll be able to get into every room!"
Although Mike is the main cook, the kitchen was designed with Jennifer in mind, with lowered cabinets so she can reach anything, and space so she can navigate without difficulty. Jennifer continues to exercise at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan in Detroit, but because of the demanding three-hour travel time, an exercise area was also added so she can continue physical therapy at home.
"There are parallel bars on three walls and the floor is rubberized, so I don't have to worry about falling/* said Jennifer. "This also means I won't have to put off exercising until Mike gets home from work to help."
In addition to the bars and floor, the area allows 'Jennifer to lift weights, and continue to do ab -strengthening exercises and stretches which have given her the strength to walk short distances.
The home should be complete by midJanuary, and the couple is anxious to move in.
"This will be the first time we will be able to live together by ourselves," said Jennifer. 4Tt will be nice to do our own things and leave the dishes in the sink if we want to."
Rachelle and Chris
Unlike Mike and Jennifer, Rachelle and Chris bought a home in Knightdale, North Carolina just ten months before tragedy struck. A playful push in a backyard swimming pool from one of the bridesmaids following the bachelorette party resulted in a C 6 spinal cord injury. The 2010 accident meant she would never walk again, and interrupted their wedding plans. Although they married almost a year later, adjusting to the home's handicap barriers further complicated married life.
"It is a two-story home with the bedrooms upstairs/* explained Rachelle. "This meant making the living room our bedroom or Chris would have to carry me upstairs every night. It was now bigger than what we needed, but didn't accommodate our needs. We couldn't sell it or we would have lost money."
Setting up the bedroom downstairs meant hanging curtains in the living room doorways to provide privacy, and it also meant additional problems for Rachellc when she wanted to change her clothing.
"AH of my clothes were upstairs since there was no closet space downstairs. Chris would be at work when I started the day, so I had to plan my wardrobe in advance" explained Rachelle.
"Unfortunately, I couldn't remember what clothes where in which closet, so my mom (Carol) would come over to help. I told her what outfits I would want. That didn't work out very well though."
Even getting around the first floor proved to be an obstacle because the carpet made it difficult for Rachelle to wheel from room to room, and the kitchen was not big enough to accommodate her wheelchair.
The couple knew they had to make some changes, so they began to rip up the carpet and install hardwood flooring with the help of a friend. Rachelle's accident was highlighted in an NBC news story that lead to speaking engagements and some financial assistance followed. The couple had decided to use some of this money to remodel the downstairs bathroom, when she received an unexpected phone call that altered their plans.
"A representative of the Today Show said they wanted to do an update, so I thought I would have to go back to New York, but they said they were going to come to our house instead," said Rachelle. "While they were setting up the lights, the doorbell rang and there was George Oliphant of the reality show George to the Rescue."
Partnering with NBC, George and his team of contractors and interior designers arc stars of the show that features them rescuing the homes of deserving people. George heard Rachelle's story and decided to appear at her home - the first live reveal he had done on The Today Show - to explain how he was going to be remodel the house.
"I was so surprised," said Rachelle. "My parents and friends were in on it, so they made sure I was sleeping or away when George or someone from his crew would come by to take measurements. They were even working with our friend who was replacing the flooring. He knew what we wanted in the bathroom, and then he said, ' What would you do if you were to remodel this room, or that one?' He was helping to redesign the whole house. He later said it was hard for him not to laugh."
To ensure the home met all the local requirements, George worked with the Rcmodelcrs Council of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh -Wake County, and several items were donated by local businesses. With all their help and his 200plus-man crew of dry wallers, plumbers, electricians and more, George was able to complete the job in just 12 days. Rachelle estimates it was at least $200,000 worth of work on the 2400 square foot home, and would have taken six months.
The home was remodeled inside and out, and several additions were made including creating a backyard deck and changing the downstairs bedroom back into a den/TV room. The kitchen was also remodeled so the switches and sink are lower, the powder room was redesigned to be handicapped enabled, and the doorways are wide enough to accommodate Rachelle's wheelchair.
"Now I can learn how to cook!" said Rachelle.
Rachelle 's former co-workers built a ramp in the garage immediately after the accident so she could enter the home, tó she was still not able to access the second floor... until now. After removing the ramp, the crew installed an elevator and removed all of carpeting and installed hardwood floors so she can access every room upstairs.
"The upstairs had four bedroom, so they moved a lot of walls to enlarge one bedroom," laid Rachelle. "They also installed remote controls so I can turn the radio, TV and lights on, and even adjust the temperature from my bed."
The redesign also includes a larger bathroom with a roll-in shower and a whcelehairaccessible sink for Rachelle as well as accompanying sink and shower for Chris.
"I even have a remote control seat warmer for my toilet, but I don't know how to use it," laughs Rachelle.
With planning and the right accommodations, these couples' houses are their homes.