ALUMNI SERVICE IN ACTION: Helping People with Disabilities

By Claire Moroni Sayers ’98

Last month, I received a truly extraordinary Christmas gift. My eight-year-old daughter, Josie, came running into the kitchen to tell me that “The Bears are on the phone.” I almost fell over. Perhaps the seeds were sewn during my Fenwick days cheering for the Black and White, or when I legally became a “SAYERS” in 2010, but I am now, quite unbelievably, the most devoted Bears fan that I know. On Mondays during football season, you will find me driving around town in my Honda Odyssey full of little kids, listening to the game recap on 670 the SCORE. It’s only a matter of time until I become a regular caller.

Needless to say, having The Bears call me on the day before Christmas Eve was an unexpected thrill. But the message I received when I picked up the phone was nothing short of miraculous. The Bears had selected Devices 4 the Disabled, a local non-profit organization, as their 2020 Community All Pros Charity, an honor that comes with a transformative gift of $101,000.

The mission of Devices 4 the Disabled’s (D4D) is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the medical equipment they need. Our model is simple. We refurbish used medical equipment and provide it for free to those who need it most: those without insurance, and those with limited financial resources. However, behind this simplicity is life-changing work. Without proper medical equipment, people are essentially imprisoned in their environment without the ability to live independent, healthy lives.

When it feels like no one can help, D4D steps in. Sadly, we often see people in the wake of tragedy: a gunshot, a sudden stroke, a devastating diagnosis has turned a family’s world upside down. D4D meets people in this space and creates a bridge to mobility, freedom and independence. Read on for the story of a remarkable woman who is taking back her life.

Meet Tania

In the summer of 2018, Tania was a bright, social 22-year-old woman who loved children. She dreamed of being a mother. In one horrible moment, Tania’s life was permanently changed. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time: hit by three bullets intended for someone else.

After multiple surgeries, Tania survived, but she is paralyzed from the neck down, breathing through a ventilator. She cannot walk, turn herself in bed, sit up or breathe on her own. Tania is dependent on all self-care, including feeding and dressing. Her life has been transformed.  

The impact of this violence devastated Tania’s family. Her mother, eight months pregnant, rushed to the hospital to find her oldest child in critical condition. How would she be able to care for Tania while also caring for a baby and two other children? To compound this tragedy, Tania’s family did not have health insurance or the financial resources to acquire the medical equipment necessary to bring her home safely. Without these critical tools, Tania’s life expectancy outside of this hospital could be one to two years.

After months of recovery, Tania was finally able to begin the therapy that would allow her to go home. To do this, she needed a complex, customized power wheelchair. Clearly, Tania’s family could not afford such a sophisticated piece of medical equipment. And without it, Tania’s therapy could not begin.

D4D steps in

D4D had a complex power wheelchair in its warehouse donated by the ALS Society. We made all of the necessary modifications and adjustments so that the wheelchair was appropriate for Tania. We couldn’t wait to surprise Tania with her new chair.

On the day the chair was delivered, Tania’s hospital room was filled with doctors, nurses and therapists awaiting the arrival of the surprise. Tania’s mother was there. We had been told that mom had never cried in front of Tania. She said she needed to be strong for her daughter. When we arrived with Tania’s new wheelchair, mom took one look and broke down crying. Her daughter would have a life. Her daughter could begin the long journey home.

Tania has now spent 14 months in the hospital. Due to COVID restrictions, she has not had the comfort of visitors (even her mother) since March. Tania desperately awaits the day that she can come home, to live with her family, to meet her 13-month-old sister. D4D continues to work hard to bring that day closer. 

D4D recognized that in order to be safely discharged, Tania would require several pieces of medical equipment besides the wheelchair. We got to work. We delivered an electrical hospital bed and a patient lift to help her mother transfer Tania from the hospital bed to her wheelchair. We also installed a porch lift that would enable Tania to get into her home from street level. Seeing this equipment in her home brought Tania’s mother to tears once more.  A miracle was happening. Her little girl could finally come home.

Fenwick alumna Claire Moroni Sayers (Class of 1998) is the Director of Development for Devices 4 the Disabled, a Chicago non-profit that provides medical equipment to those in need. Mrs. Sayers lives in Elmhurst with her husband, Nick, and three future Friars: Josephine (’30), Juliette (’32) and Genevieve (’35). She invites all of Friar Nation to join the Bears and become a D4D partner. Email her with questions at Claire.sayers1@gmail.com.

3 Replies to “ALUMNI SERVICE IN ACTION: Helping People with Disabilities”

    1. Great to hear! I got to know Tania very well and even drove that wheelchair. (It’s very fast by the way!) I know this was a very complicated case and I’m just so thankful that this program exists. Great job Claire.
      Mike Bell “99”

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