Tag Archives: home modifications

How I Cope with My Wife’s Stroke and My Son’s Spinal Cord Injury

At age 27, Sean McGonagle was attacked in a shocking act of violence at a bar just two days before Christmas. Shot in the leg and chest, Sean became paralyzed from the chest down. Two years after injury, Sean underwent surgery to remove an abscess on his spinal cord where the bullet had been lodged.

Just four days after his surgery, his mother, Kass, had a stroke that left her with limited mobility and communication skills. Sean and Kass stayed in the same hospital during recovery and pursued rehabilitation at Magee together.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive spinal cord injury stroke boat Spirit Philadelphia

Kass and Sean stayed in the same hospital during their recovery.

Father and husband Dennis McGonagle helped to initiate fundraising campaigns with HelpHOPELive to support both Sean and Kass. Dennis explains how his family is living with the lifelong impact of spinal cord injury and stroke.


How is your relationship with your family? 


My relationship with my family is very strong. I retired early so I could be a caregiver for my wife and son, and I have three daughters and three grandchildren that I spend time with. It is very important to all of us to stay close and help each other.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive

Dennis, center, retired so he could care for his wife, left, and son.


Why is fundraising important to you?  


Managing health is a minute-to-minute task. We have therapy three times a week, doctors’ appointments and daily care and companionship needs. As a quadriplegic, Sean suffers from a lot of pain and discomfort. Things will not get easier for him as time goes on; as a matter of fact, they will get progressively worse.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive

Sean with Joanne from Magee Rehabilitation Hospital

He tries to keep a positive attitude and holds onto the thought that there may be some life-changing medical advancements in his future.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive Magee Rehab physical therapy spinal cord injury

Therapy helps Sean cut down on “pain and discomfort” after injury.

For Sean, our last fundraiser was to help him purchase a new wheelchair. We have a long way to go, but the new chair will enable him to stand upright and increase his blood flow. In the long run, it will keep him from getting pressure sores and improve his overall health.

Sean McGonagle fundraising HelpHOPELive comedy hypnosis

Sean fundraises for a new wheelchair and other post-injury costs.

It has been almost three years since Kass’ stroke, and she is dealing with memory loss, speech problems and paralysis on her left side. She is reliant on a wheelchair for mobility support. Kass needs a stair lift to get up and down the staircase safely. We also need to make some modifications to her bathroom to make it safer and more accessible.

Kass McGonagle HelpHOPELive stroke

Kass fundraises with HelpHOPELive for home modifications, mobility needs and more.


How do you feel about fundraising with HelpHOPELive?


We have been in contact with the nonprofit since 2011. HelpHOPELive is a great nonprofit organization. From digital guidance and customized flyers to general understanding, HelpHOPELive has shown us the path to achieve our fundraising goals. We are also glad to have an avenue to allow our community to understand and support our fundraising goals and events.

Wheelchair van Sean McGonagle

“Picking up my new van! This never would have happened without your donations!”


Is it challenging to support a loved one as a caregiver while being a father?


Being a father and a caregiver is always a challenge, and in my case, I am helping to support both my wife and my son. They have similar needs and yet a lot of different individual needs as well. You can’t be in two places at one time, but somehow we have managed so far. Who better than a husband and father to take care of them? The best part about being a dad is the love of your children. A child is a gift and you get an opportunity to watch kids grow into young adults. My children are also my friends, which is very important to a healthy and honest family relationship.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive spinal cord injury stroke boat Spirit Philadelphia

Dennis says his family “is more important than any material things.”

Remember that your family is more important than any material things. Remember to always look after and cherish your children. You never know when they will need you the most.


Learn more about Dennis, Kass and Sean at helphopelive.org. Do you know a family struggling to cover the out-of-pocket expenses associated with a catastrophic injury or illness? Learn how we can help with a tax-deductible fundraising campaign and one-on-one support.

My Health, Independence and Financial Challenges 5 Years After Injury

Danielle Watson became paralyzed from the waist down in June 2011. In May 2016, Danielle completed her master’s in occupational therapy.


People are shocked all the time that I drive and live independently. I don’t blame them, because I didn’t know what people with disabilities could do either, until my injury. I have managed (with help from others) to figure out how to live independently.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“I have managed to figure out how to live independently.”

I consider my wheelchair to be an extension of myself at this point. It really bothers me to hear the terms “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound” because the wheelchair is an awesome machine that allows me to be independent. I also rely on my NuProdx shower bench and I now have one on the toilet, too, to prevent pressure sores. My car is also an important part of my independence. It has been adapted with hand controls.

I have had increasing complications with my health over the past 5 years. Unfortunately, spinal cord injury affects many of my bodily systems, so I must continue to adapt. The average person doesn’t realize that I am not just sitting. That is the easiest part. Spinal cord injury affects all body systems. I usually keep this hidden from people and try to portray that I have everything together. However, I constantly have to think about my bladder, my digestion, my bones, my joints, my body mechanics, avoiding pressure sores, my temperature, my water intake…the list goes on!

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Danielle fell 250 feet. The injury “affects many of my bodily systems”

Therapy has had a huge impact on my life. I am so grateful to have had so many good health professionals after my injury. I already wanted to be a therapist before my accident, but my injury introduced me to occupational therapy, which I had never heard of before. My hope is that I can use my personal experience and empathy to help others after a life-altering injury.

I have faced significant financial challenges since the injury. By the time I get my license to practice OT, I will have been unemployed for almost 6 years. I have student loans from undergraduate schooling that I have been unable to pay off and they have been accumulating interest. I had to decide if I would be able to live my life on social security or minimum wage or take on the loans and the hope for a better life. I am trying to do the right thing and support myself financially.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“I am trying to do the right thing and support myself financially.”

HelpHOPELive has thankfully shielded me from many of the medical expenses that go along with this injury. I don’t know how I would survive without it. There are a lot of supplies and pieces of equipment that I need that Medicare doesn’t cover. Sometimes Medicare makes errors and I get stuck with huge medical bills. I have lived in five different places within the last 5 years and I have had to renovate them all to make them accessible. When I begin to work, I will lose Medicare and I will have private insurance, but I am thankful to HelpHOPELive for helping me cover deductibles, medications and procedures through fundraising.

The HelpHOPELive campaign in my honor has been extremely important because I don’t have to agonize over purchases or costs that are medically necessary or helpful in maintaining my independence, which really contributes to my mental health. I have so many other worries with my spinal cord injury that it is really helpful to have one less worry.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Fundraising helps Danielle to live independently.

I was introduced to adaptive sports 6 months after my injury. I skied as soon as I was medically able. Oregon Adaptive Sports has been crucial to my recovery–I received scholarships for the lessons I needed to learn to ski and they have been a family to me. I met most of my friends though OAS and I continue to be a participant and an advocate for the organization. HelpHOPELive helps with the expenses that are not covered by the scholarships I get.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Danielle participates in adaptive sports, triathlons and marathons.

I love to travel now just as much as I did before my injury. Having the right equipment really helps. I have a shower chair that comes apart and fits into a small square bag. That has made travel a lot easier, and I bring it with me everywhere. I want to travel the world but currently it is easier and more accessible for me to travel within the United States because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Travel is easier for Danielle with the right adaptive equipment.

I look forward to being self-sufficient again. I look forward to buying a home someday that I can renovate for my needs, and I look forward to getting into a routine that will allow me to finally get my finances under control.

Thankfully, I have a degree in philosophy, so I had a lot of time to think about big questions before my injury. I believe in the power of your thoughts and your words to manifest your life. I try my best to shed the thoughts that don’t serve me well and think positively. I have gotten better at this over time and I believe it is something you can practice until it becomes more natural. Having a disability can be alright if you have access to the right equipment and support, which is why HelpHOPELive is so necessary.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“Having a disability can be alright if you have access to the right equipment and support.”


Learn more about Danielle and make a contribution in her honor at helphopelive.org. Follow her blog for ongoing insights on life and possibilities after injury.

Voices Of Hope: We Stayed Together After A Catastrophic Injury

Katie started dating Richard Travia when they were freshmen at Villanova University. Two years after graduation, Richard became paralyzed from the chest down after a diving accident at the beach. Katie and Richard stayed together after the injury and, today, they are happily married with two young children.

Richard and Katie Travia HelpHOPELive

Katie and Richard with their two youngsters in 2014


Did the injury impact your relationship?


Katie: The early stages were challenging, scary and overwhelming. Richard’s injury was a big obstacle on our path together, but we didn’t let it stop us from continuing with our goals and future. Today, there are still limitations to what we can do as a couple. For instance, we haven’t traveled to Europe together since his injury because we are fearful of the accessibility challenges; we can’t do some outdoor activities together that we used to enjoy; but we find enjoyment and travel opportunities elsewhere. The injury has brought us challenges, but our relationship is stronger than ever.


Today, how does love play a role in your daily life?


Richard is my best friend and soulmate. We met and started dating when we were young, but we have grown and gone through so much together. I can’t imagine going through a day without talking to him 10 times. We are always eager to see each other every evening after work. Aside from the fact that he can’t stand on his own anymore, you would barely know that the injury had occurred. He is always positive, patient and logical. He keeps me in check.

Katie Richard Travia HelpHOPELive engagement

Katie calls Richard her “best friend and soulmate”

Each day has its own challenges, but we have built an amazing family together with two beautiful children and an awesome dog. Our love for each other and our love for our family is overwhelming to us. Sometimes, amidst the craziness at home, we will both look at each other and smile and say, “Look how lucky we are.”


How did Richard propose to you?


He was amazingly determined to keep with tradition: for months he practiced getting down on one knee during physical therapy. We got engaged on Christmas in 2007 and got married in October of 2008 at my church in New Jersey. Richard practiced standing in physical therapy, and with the help of two friends and a walker, he stood when I walked down the aisle and when we said our vows.

Richard and Katie Travia wedding

Richard pursed physical therapy to be able to stand for his wedding vows


What advice would you give to someone else trying to hold onto their relationship after injury?


Keeping a positive mindset and remembering that things won’t always go as planned is the best way to remain sane. Surround yourself with positive people and things that make you happy. Find great support groups online or in your community and talk to people going through a similar situation.


How does your family and community provide support?


Being in a wheelchair for 10 years has its challenges, both physical and psychological. Richard has been lucky, because everyone surrounded him when he was injured and they stuck with him. He was able to move on with the life that he wanted to have because of that support. Our immediate family and friends have been amazing to us over the years, whether by modifying their homes to accommodate Richard’s needs or helping to lift Richard into a restaurant, home or location for a social outing.

HelpHOPELive friends fundraising

Friends and family “stuck with him” when Richard was injured

Another major source of support was the Villanova community. We graduated from Villanova together but we have received support from people we didn’t even graduate with. From getting people together to watch the game at home with Richard to VIP tickets to basketball games, our Villanova family has been so amazingly supportive. Now, Richard gives back to that community through his involvement with the Villanova Alumni Senate and other activities on campus.


Did that support translate into fundraising success?


Within the first two years after Richard’s injury, we did a great deal of fundraising with HelpHOPELive [pictured below], including a 5K Walk/Run, open bar nights and small events at schools in our area. The support was overwhelming. We were able to raise over $200,000, which has helped us tremendously. We are still relying on those funds now a decade later to cover medical expenses.

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One of our largest purchases was an accessible van for Richard. We were also able to cover the cost of home exercise equipment, prescriptions, ramps and other purchases that helped to make our living situation more accessible for him. The expenses associated with paralysis never go away and insurance covers very little, so the fundraising we did early on has provided some comfort for us over the years.


What is the thing you love most about your relationship?


Richard and I don’t have the best luck, but through all the obstacles over the years, we have still accomplished all that we wanted to accomplish, and we have done it together, as a team.


Did you find love before or after a life-changing injury or illness? Share your story with us in the comments section below and you could be selected to participate in an interview!

Learning To Adapt: How A Business Owner Supports His Wife After Injury

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month this November, we’re profiling individuals who play a key role in the care and happiness of their loved ones. In July of 2014, Kirby G. Smith was thrust into one of the most intense experiences of his life. Suria Nordin, then his fiancée, became paralyzed while vacationing with Kirby in Jamaica. By July of 2015, Kirby had founded SunKirb Ideas, a game-changing “smart home” installation and management company.

Kirby hopes to offer ease, efficiency and manageable overhead costs to families coping with a disability or injury. We picked Kirby’s brain to find out how smart home tech could revolutionize daily life for American families.

Kirby Smith and Suria Nordin HelpHOPELive injury spinal cord injury wheelchair SunKirb Ideas

Suria and Kirby in their neighborhood. Source: Wall Street Journal


After your wife’s injury, what modifications were needed to create a supportive home environment?


We had to modify multiple elements of our house, including our home entrances, the heights of our light switches, the bathroom configuration, our flooring and our emergency response options.


How did you begin to discover the benefits of smart home tech?


When Suria was injured, I wasn’t very motivated to seek out adaptive equipment because of the exorbitant prices for purchase and installation. As a result, I started to take a closer look at regular consumer products. It turned out that MANY of these products were already outfitted with adaptive technologies, but those features were not well-advertised.

Kirby Smith Suria Nordin HelpHOPELive home

Kirby found creative ways to make life easier for Suria. Source: Wall Street Journal

When it comes to adapting for disabilities, people tend to just purchase the tech without looking into the value. I realized that instead of asking families to look for expensive adaptive equipment, I could help them to adapt existing equipment for their needs. I realized this was really a gap in the market: services from a company that understands disability and aging directly.


What kind of cost-effective conversions did you discover?


The first four months after Suria was injured were challenging. We had no one to turn to to discuss life after injury when it came down to the nuts and bolts of home modification. In one instance, I searched for a piece of technology that would allow Suria to turn on the television with her voice. A vendor presented me a customized voice-activated device that would cost us $6,000. To me, that price was outrageous. Instead of making that purchase, I picked up a $400 Xbox console, which has built-in audio recognition that can completely control a television set, including sites such as Netflix and cable box or TiVo DVRs.

xbox

An Xbox can be used in place of a $6,000 modification.

The second piece of the puzzle was making physical adaptations without relying on installation services. Every adaptive tech business sold its product aggressively, but no one showed you how to adapt your home without paying a professional to do so. Different vendors handled each piece of the home, from the lights to the doors to the television, with huge service markups attached to each. The vendors pushed their own product and didn’t work on continuity. We would have had to find our own tech-savvy contractor to adapt the house on a physical level. Learning how to do that on my own gave me the experience I needed to help others do the same without paying exorbitant installation fees.


Why don’t businesses advertise adaptive uses for consumer products?


The average person doesn’t even think about these considerations. In Xbox’s case, the company wants to appeal to gamers primarily. Businesses don’t want to lose their core markets, so they tend to shy away from using language like ‘adaptable’ or ‘adaptive’ because they are so afraid of alienating their core consumers.

game marketing Battlefield

Afraid of alienating core consumers, most companies don’t advertise accessibility.


How did your professional background inform your business?


My tech background as a Senior VP of IT helped me to identify what was a good deal and what was an outrageous proposition. We had to design portions of our systems to accommodate persons with disabilities. I’ve been aware of that [need] throughout my career.


How can intelligent tech impact the lives of families coping with an injury?


Smart tech can provide cost savings while improving safety and comfort. A smart house can monitor energy usage and save you money while you’re away from home – for example, the system will adjust the temperature to save energy if it senses that you are away from your home and then, as it learns your schedule, it will bring the temperature back to comfort levels before you arrive. Our home tech learns Suria’s patterns and adapts to them. We have smart smoke detectors that pick up smoke and CO2, but the alarms can identify both the exact location of the issue AND the degree of emergency. If someone burns the toast and there is smoke in the kitchen, the device will inform us of the issue but will also note that it doesn’t pose an immediate threat to our safety. The sensors also detect motion and can alert us if we are away and there is movement in the house. They can also tell the thermostat we’re out, and lower energy levels to save power.

smart home

Smart tech can save users money and improve safety.


Can smart homes help caregivers, too?


As a caregiver, I use our home features as much as Suria does! Technology streamlines and simplifies everything. Caregivers can monitor their homes and their loved ones and keep in constant contact, especially in case of emergencies. When everything is connected, it becomes easier for EVERY member of the family to live a fulfilling life.


Are there benefits to using smart tech beyond physical disability support?


It’s nice to have equipment that assists you but isn’t stigmatizing. There is a ‘cool’ factor to a lot of this technology that supersedes the disabled label – in fact, my first SunKirb Ideas clients are not disabled. That’s what’s so powerful about connected home technology: it transcends traditional labels and limitations. I truly think we’re on the cusp of very affordable technology that can change lives, and I’m proud to be on the forefront of that.

smart house family

Smart tech can transcend the ‘disability’ label to appeal to everyone.


Why not expand your business to the general market?


After what I went through with Suria, serving families who are coping with disabilities is my passion and where my heart lies. I’m not speaking from theory when I address consumers – I’ve lived it, and that gives me a perspective I can share with others. By testing things with Suria, I was able to determine what would work for others with similar situations or even completely different concerns (blindness, for instance). I’m not in this to form a gigantic company – I am looking for fulfillment and the ability to provide a good service. I want to be able to walk away feeling like the money I made is supporting a worthy cause.


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