Jun 3, 2003
Roanoke Times and World News
Multiple sclerosis officially entered John Faw's life with a diagnosis in 1991.
As his nerves lost the ability to send messages to his muscles, Faw's speech slurred, and his legs weakened. He eventually required the assistance of a power wheelchair.
But Faw, 62, doesn't see his disease as a disability.
"This is just God's way of slowing me down," he said.
It's also given him a reason to visit residents at Avante at Roanoke Health Care Center, a long-term care and rehabilitation facility in Roanoke's Old Southwest neighborhood.
Every Wednesday, Faw - who lives in Goodview in Bedford County - gets rides to and from the center from friends and family. He usually arrives about noon and spends two hours visiting residents and then hosts a music session from 2 to 3 p.m.
"He's fabulous," said Britney Arney, director of therapeutic recreation. "He's a mentor, he gives them hope. If he's able to get out and live on his own, then that gives them hope that they'll be able to as well."
One of the residents he visits is John Contreras, who also has MS and needs help getting into his power wheelchair. The two like to joke about their ailments - "When did you stop feeling your right leg?" - and to talk about life.
"He's my main man," Contreras, 54, said of Faw. "Like clockwork, I can count on John to be here."
After visiting residents, Faw goes to the community room and plays an hour's worth of music, usually bluegrass or gospel. He tapes the songs at home and leaves the tapes at the center so residents can listen to them again if they'd like.
On a recent Wednesday, Faw brought the tunes of Billy Walker.
"The music you're going to listen to today is Billy Walker," Faw said to his audience of about a dozen, many of whom are also in wheelchairs. "He's good, I like him, and I hope you all do, too."
As the music plays, some are inspired to sing along and one, Jeanette Scott, even dances.
"Shake it, Jeanette," the onlookers tell her as she dances with a recreational assistant.
Meanwhile, Faw - who has Jimmy Stewart eyes and wears a bucket fishing hat - sits at the front of the room, enjoying his audience.
Norma Rickman was one of three women who sang along to "I'll Fly Away."
"I think he's sweet; I think he's cute," Judy Coleman, 56, said. "I think it takes a lot of courage for him to come out to play his songs."
In the year and half that Faw has volunteered at Avante, he's missed his session only twice - both due to a serious bout of pneumonia.
"I should've been dead," he said. "So I figured the Lord wants me to stay around here for some reason. This probably is the reason."
As Faw left his music session that day, he waved to the crowd.
"It's time for me to go," he said. "I'll see you all next week."
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