Passion Endured in a Life That Was Cut Short
December 14, 2002, Saturday, Late Edition - Final
The New York Times
By ARTHUR BOVINO
Donald and Ann Scheiner have a history together, much of it precious and joyful, some of it profoundly sad.
They were in the same third-grade class in Public School 206 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, in 1960.They met again in 1971 while working at a Pathmark in Brooklyn. He stocked shelves at the store. She was a cashier. He asked for her number. A year later, they were in love, 19, and married. When they were both 21, they had the first of three children. He wrote poems for his wife, and women in the neighborhood asked their husbands why they never put up Happy Anniversary banners like the one Mr. Scheiner draped over the side of his home.
She had a smile that disarmed people, and a passion for her family that inspired them. One time, she convinced her husband to exchange a trip that he had won -- Cancun for two -- for a family vacation to Disney World. She had their young children, Scott, Robert and Matthew, hide his ashtrays and ask for kisses to help him stop smoking -- which he did.
History. Most of it, the Scheiners would not trade for the world. But some of it, they wish they could rewrite.
In 1978, Mrs. Scheiner experienced temporary blindness, along with pain in her neck and back. Soon, she had to use the walls for support in order to walk. The doctors eventually reached a diagnosis -- multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the nervous system.
They gave Mrs. Scheiner a choice that altered the course of her life. "You can go on steroids to help you live, or you can do what a lot of people do, don't go on the steroids, but you'll get a little worse all the time," Mr. Scheiner recalled.
"She said, 'This disease will not slow me down from being a mother.' "
The steroids strengthened her, freeing her from bed. But they also would limit her life span, doctors told her, giving her about 20 more years to live.
Mr. Scheiner eventually became a manager at the Pathmark store, which became a Rite Aid. He is now an assistant manager at a Genovese drug store in Bay Ridge. Meanwhile, Mrs. Scheiner stopped working and raised their children at home.
"When we went miniature golfing with them, she would use one of her crutches as a golf club," said Mr. Scheiner. "She named them Calvin and Charlie," to help make her disease easier for the children to understand. Calvin and Charlie were "Mommy's helpers," he said.
Her approach influenced the way the boys perceived people with disabilities, he said. "The way my sons grew up was they would hold the door open for people," Mr. Scheiner said. "They understood a handicapped or elderly person better than I think a lot of children do. It made us very tight and close. And very proud."
Mrs. Scheiner's struggles drew them even closer. Over the years, her spirit soared, though her condition worsened.
"I used to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning sometimes and go to work," Mr. Scheiner said. "She'd be up at 3 o'clock making me coffee, using her crutches to take the steps one at a time. I'd say to her, 'What are you doing? Get back into bed.' Her classic answer was, 'Because I still can.' "
So, the Scheiners went on with life. They became involved with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, for which they helped raise over $80,000.
But by early 2000, Mrs. Scheiner did not have much time left.
They planned to use what little money they had to go on a cruise to Alaska in May 2000. On May 5, however, she had a stroke. They cashed in the tickets to pay her medical bills.
Mrs. Scheiner needed constant care, so she was admitted to a nursing home. Mr. Scheiner began renovating their home -- wider doors, a chair lift -- so she could spend her remaining days there.
Then, a friend of the family suggested that he seek help from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a social service agency that offers counseling, housing services and financial support. It is supported by the UJA-Federation of New York, one of the seven local charities involved in The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Mr. Scheiner was put in touch with a caseworker, Karen Kirshner.
During the second half of 2001 and in May this year, Ms. Kirshner secured $10,698 from anonymous donors to make the house accessible for Mrs. Scheiner's wheelchair. She also gave Mr. Scheiner $719 in Neediest Cases money toward medical expenses.
Mr. Scheiner believes things happen for a reason. In January, he slipped and broke his kneecap. The six months he spent out of work and recuperating allowed him the time to be with his wife. She died on April 19.
She never saw the home renovations, but was able to see one son, Matthew, 22, escape safely from the World Trade Center, where he worked at Network Plus on the 81st floor of the north tower. She also saw Robert, 25, get married five days before she died. She came in a rented ambulance.
Mrs. Scheiner had always wanted to have a daughter, but her condition prevented them from trying to have another child. In October, Robert and his wife had a baby girl.
Today, Mr. Scheiner and his three sons are left with their grief, and with more than $12,000 in medical bills. Mr. Scheiner does his best to pay them, along with a mortgage and other bills, on his take-home pay of $2,400 a month.
"You watch things on TV, everybody says, 'It'll be O.K. You're never O.K.," Mr. Scheiner said. "Or, 'You're young, you got to move on.' Thanks for telling me that. You're with somebody for 29 years, it's not that easy, to just move on."
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To delay may mean to forget.
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