Disability Grants To Help MS Disabled Fireman Howell Regain Some Autonomy
by Howell Westbrook
(Elberton, Georgia, USA)
My name is Howell James Westbrook and I'm 57 years old. I'm a native of Georgia, although I lived in Florida in my late teens and early twenties. I did a variety of work there including a summer employed by Disney World.
MS Disabled Howell Westbrook Seeking Greater Autonomy
One day I watched the fire department save the life of a lady trapped in her burning house. I realized that I wanted to help people, so I applied and was accepted to the Orlando Fire Department. The training was tough but I loved every minute of it.
Eventually I decided to move back to Georgia and went to work for the Atlanta Fire Department. During my 27 years there I earned my Paramedic certification and retired in 2007 as a Captain. I received several rewards for bravery, but better than that, I helped many people in their time of need.
I am married and have four grown children and four grandchildren. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I don't have a close relationship with my children.Disability Issues
In 1995, I noticed that I was having numbness in my feet and occasionally would trip and fall. My primary care physician referred me to a neurologist for further testing.
Then came one of the most frightening periods in my life.
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
I thought my life was going to end at that moment. All I could picture was a wheelchair and a nursing home. Fortunately, I was accepted as a patient in a clinic just for MS patients. My condition developed very slowly, so I was able to continue to do the work I loved.
In 2007, the symptoms became more pronounced. Since I no longer felt like I could safely work as a firefighter despite being in management, I took my disability and retired.
For several years I could get around comfortably with a cane. In 2011 I went through a very contentious divorce. According to my neurologist, the stress exacerbated my MS.
Today, I can only walk a few steps with a walker. The rest of the time I have to utilize a wheelchair. At this time, I receive an infusion at a MS specialty clinic once a month to attempt to keep the disease from progressing. There is no cure at this time, but stem cell research is showing some advancements.
My income is from Disability and a small pension from the Fire Department. My wife and I live on a fixed income, as she can no longer work. She has tried a couple of jobs but lost them both when I was hospitalized. I require 24-hour care now, so any out-of-the-home work opportunities for her are impractical.
Between the cost of rent, food, insurance, medications and traveling two hours each way for my specialty physician appointments, money is always tight.
My biggest expense is a settlement my ex-wife received in the divorce. Every month for the rest of her life, I have to pay her $1200. This is approximately a third of my income and actually comes out of my Disability.
The ironic thing is she divorced me because she didn't want to have to take care of me as my MS worsened. She is an able bodied person with a job. We were married for 26 years, supposedly in sickness and in health.
I'm still shocked that a judge would award her anything, much less $1200 out of my Disability.Income Efforts
Approximately three years ago, my wife started selling items on eBay to help ends meet. Currently, she has four stores, but as in any business, sales fluctuate from month to month.
She also sells things locally on the yard sale websites. She tried to sell her blood serum, but wasn't successful due to having poor quality veins.
She did manage to convince our local church to build a ramp. It's a wonderful ramp, and I appreciate all of the effort the volunteers put forward.
It has definitely prevented me from being injured leaving or entering the house. Before, I had to try to climb up four steps. I fell several times and had to rely on EMS to assist me. That was when my wife started talking with the volunteers from the church. I couldn't believe she was able to get it built so quickly!
Recently, she set up a page for me on My Events. She managed to raise $1400 there with the help of friends and family.
With all of her efforts combined, she has managed to save almost $4000. Her Mother has even donated an acre of land for us to build a fully accessible home.Specific Needs
We are currently living in a rental house that was built in 1952, seven years before I was born! Since I have to use my wheelchair 99% of the time, the house has presented some huge barriers for me.
The doors in some rooms are not wide enough for me to enter a room. One of these rooms is the bathroom!
The only way I can take a shower is with my wife supporting most of my weight to get me into the bathroom and onto a shower chair.
It's dangerous for us both, and I have fallen and been taken to the emergency room several times. I'm also terrified that she will get injured as well when trying to help me.
I am searching for grants or loans for a down payment for a handicapped accessible home. I need wide doors and modifications in the kitchen and bathroom to accommodate my disability and my wheelchair.
Of course I will need to be able to get from the house into the car without impediments.
I am also searching for assistance to get a car with hand controls so I can drive again and regain some of my independence. I enjoy going places and meeting people, but right now I usually only leave the house once or twice a month.
I have to depend on my wife for everything. That's hard for me as I've always been the caretaker. Now she has to do it all.
I would really like to consult with a family law attorney about the settlement my ex-wife received. Can she be taken back to court for a revision, or even have the decision thrown out? Is it legal for her to be awarded money from my disability? I really could use some good legal advice.
Please understand, I'm not asking for a handout. As a fireman and a paramedic, over the years I have helped many people. That's what I'm looking for now… a hand up. Some things that could give me back my independence as well as return to me my self-respect.