More MS news articles for Nov 2001

Woman With Disease Wants Taste of Independence

Wednesday, November 21, 2001
The Ledger

WINTER HAVEN -- Paula Smith could ask for a lot of things to make living with multiple sclerosis easier. A handicapped-accessible shower and a bathroom large enough to turn her wheelchair in would be a vast improvement over her sponge baths and bedside commode.

Wider halls in the house her parents bought in Southeast Winter Haven in the mid-1960s, where she lives with her mother, also would be helpful.

But her request for Newspaper with a Heart readers, if money is available, is more basic.

She and her mother are hoping for an automatic door opener to let Smith, 50, open the door from the family room to the garage herself. A ramp from that door would let her into the garage, where she can reach the garage door opener.

Her hands are too contracted and her wheelchair too large to get her close enough now to the knob on the 36-inch door.

Her mother, Marie Smith, 73, is her only caregiver. Marie Smith has high blood pressure, heart problems and osteoporosis.

If her mother were ever hospitalized, at a doctor's appointment or out shopping, Paula Smith would be trapped if a fire broke out.

"She couldn't get out of the home," Marie Smith said.

Having two cataract surgeries this year and a stent placed in her heart, a procedure that put her in the hospital overnight, made Marie Smith realize her daughter's vulnerability in her absence.

Newspaper with a Heart is The Ledger's annual fund-raising effort to give short-term help to some local families and individuals in financial need.

Newspaper with a Heart is designed primarily for people stricken with unexpected loss of income, predominantly due to illness or injury. The program sometimes is asked, however, to supply assistance such as this to people who fall through the cracks of other programs.

What the nonprofit program can accomplish each year depends on donations.

Twenty years of battling multiple sclerosis have weakened Paula Smith's body, but her spirit remains strong.

She worked until 1994 as a property title examiner, she said.

Looking for a way to work out of her home, she resumed classes at Polk Community College. In August 2000, she received a degree in health information management.

"I pretty well specialized in coding, the diagnostic coding and the finance part . . . for payment purposes," she said.

She said that with national certification as a registered health information technologist and using her voice-recognition computer, she wants to work with medical records from her home.

"If you get the right system, and know what you're doing, and get the right person to install it, it works like a breeze," she said of the specialized computer.

Although both hands are contracted into fists, she is able to feed herself and write a little.

Polk County Elderly Services and the Center for Independent Living, which works with people who have disabilities, referred her to Newspaper with a Heart. The automatic door opener, with battery back-up, would cost between $700 and $1,000, said Fred Meyling, the center's Polk County director.

"How would you feel having no control of being able to get in and out of your home in the case of emergency?" Meyling said. "It's a quality of life issue, and it would be giving her control over at least one thing in her life."

Newspaper with a Heart's registration number with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is SC-12293. All contributions are spent on Newspaper with a Heart clients.

© 2001 The Ledger