Karalee Bennett’s world was shaken May 3, 2008.
That’s when she learned that her son, Austin, had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative — and incurable — disease that affects the muscles. She learned about it a few days after his seventh birthday and just before Mother’s Day.
“When he did get his diagnosis, our mouths dropped to the floor,” Bennett said. “There is no treatment, no cure. We found out it’s the No. 1 genetic killer.”
At this point, Austin needs help climbing stairs, something Bennett is having difficulty doing as Austin gets bigger. And a split-entry house –in which the front entrance opens onto staircases going to the different parts of the house — will become more difficult for Austin as his disease progresses.
But friends, neighbors and the community are rallying to help the family. With donated materials and labor, volunteers are making the home accessible for Austin, adding an elevator and wheelchair ramps, and making a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom completely wheelchair accessible.
“We can’t let the Bennetts move out of the neighborhood,” said neighbor Clair Carter, taking a break from working on the house Friday. “They’re a good family.”
But for a while, moving appeared to be the Bennetts’ only option. To her and her husband Cody, it was virtually impossible to make a split-level house workable for a child who was gradually losing the ability to walk.
But it didn’t seem impossible to Arden Hess, one of the Bennett’s neighbors. Bennett said she went to Hess, who owns Hess Construction Co., out of desperation to see if there was anything that could be done with the house. He saw a way to do it, but it would mean expanding and overhauling the house. It was a challenge he was willing to take up.
“You have the greatest satisfaction when you can help other people,” said Hess, a member of the Granite School Foundation and a Boy Scout district commissioner. “We are taking this house, and we are going to see what we can do to make it accessible for Austin for the rest of his life.
The first step was to replace the front porch with something that does not require steps.
Last Friday, crews poured concrete for the new porch, and supports for an addition on the back of the house for a new master bedroom and a deck.
On the inside, Hess and others plan to add an elevator to allow Austin to get around inside the house, as well as expand the kitchen and put in an island he can get to in a wheelchair. He’ll also get a bedroom he can get to in a wheelchair, as well as a bathroom.
Hess is donating his services, as are other contractors. Various concrete companies are also pouring concrete for free, and contractors from as far away as St. George and Park City are also pitching in, Hess said. And so are neighbors such as Carter, who plans to let the Bennetts move in with him when the interior work begins.
Hess estimates renovations will cost about $100,000, but he said helping the Bennetts deal with Austin’s illness is a far greater value.
“You can’t put a price on it,” Hess said.
“Arden’s a great guy,” Bennett said. “The work he is doing is incredible.”
Austin seemed impressed as he walked around the backyard and prepared to leave his handprints in the concrete. “I think it’s cool,” Austin said.
From The Salt Lake Tribune
By Donald W. Meyers