extreme home makeover
judy head : a life made over
The story of how Judy Head lost her legs is a grievous one. It is the story of a full life interrupted by a connective tissue disorder, a three and a half-month coma, and a great deal of pain. But Judy, once an avid shag dancer, likes her own version better. With shining eyes she’ll tell you, “I danced my legs right off.”
Judy is one of those remarkable people who can smile in the face of grief, who has taken tragedy and turned it into an opportunity. Every week she leaves the Newport News home she shares with her father Robert East and visits amputees to give them encouragement and support. Judy also volunteers for the Peninsula Agency on Aging and for the Newport News Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities. The way she gives of herself seems effortless. But at home, life hasn’t been so effortless. To wash dishes, Judy had to lift herself out of her wheelchair and prop herself up on her elbows; she has torn two rotator cuffs doing this very thing. She couldn’t reach any of her cabinet shelves except one.
To reach the stove, which was at eye-level, Judy had to push up on her wheelchair and stretch across burners to reach the knobs. “The spices and steam go up my nose,” Judy explained, “and I’ve had bacon pop right in my eye.” And that’s just the kitchen. In the bathroom, Judy was unable to turn around due to the narrowness of the space between her sink and bathtub. Her bedroom was too cramped for her to access her closet and Judy has had to store her clothes in the garage. The list goes on and on – throughout Judy’s living space, daily life was full of challenges.
Unbeknownst to Judy, in September 2004, two men were having a conversation that would significantly shorten that list of challenges. Bon Secours Hampton Roads Executive Director of Healthy Communities Steve Zollos and Shaun Smith, president of Designed for Life (a company that specializes in home remodeling for the disabled and elderly), discovered that each had been turning over the same concept in his mind. Each man had the idea to “make over” the home of a senior has an example of what can be done to make a home more usable, comfortable, and valuable for seniors who want to stay in their homes. As they talked their dream took form and Judy Head’s name came up as the deserving recipient.
Judy cried when she heard the news. On February 14th, she moved out of her home to her temporary accommodations at the Ocean Sands Resort in Virginia Beach. During her two weeks there, a gift from Ocean Sands, Judy enjoyed outings on the boardwalk with her dog and dips in the pool.
They say many hands make light work, and this project was no exception. Supervised by Access 1st, 25 sailors from the USS George Washington streamed into the house to lend a hand. Volunteers from Province Place, Mary Immaculate Rehabilitation Center, and Saint Francis Nursing Center also helped accomplish the work.
Local companies each pitched in with their area of expertise. AM Dower Cabinets installed pull-down cabinets, and Howard’s Plumbing did all the necessary plumbing work. Gaddis Heating and Air Conditioning provided the electrical work and Superior Installation put in new flooring. Terry Zodda of Roomscapes by TZ contributed her interior design skills to put the icing on the cake.
Continuing Care and other Bon Secours Hospital employees donated paid time off, and by so doing, raised $7300 for the project and purchased a complete set of brand new appliances for Judy’s home.
Homecoming day, February 28th, is a day no one involved will soon forget. As Judy was driven down her street, she was astonished by the number of cars parked along its edges.
“They opened the garage, and out spilled all these people,” she recalled. “It was amazing.” Coworkers, volunteers, Navy men and women, and Bon Secours employees had all turned out for the event. Judy wheeled into the kitchen first, and her jaw dropped. The counters had been lowered four inches, and there was space beneath them for Judy to roll her wheelchair up close. Her stove had been replaced with a lowered model featuring front control burners — no more reaching across burners or spices up her nose! The new granite sink was also lower, with easy to use facets.
Pull-down shelves had been installed in the upper cabinets, so that Judy can now reach the storage areas. “It was so pretty,” Judy said, “and everything was within reach.” Perhaps the crown jewel was the new refrigerator. Until now, Judy had made ice the old-fashioned way, filling trays at the sink, wheeling them across the room, and lifting them up into a freezer. Oftentimes, more water ended up on her lap than in the freezer! Not anymore — Judy now has a brand new, side by side refrigerator, complete with icemaker.
As Judy rolled into her bedroom, she could not believe it was the same room. Enlarging the room by removing unusable closets had added about 30 Square feet of floor space between Judy’s bed and closet. That meant Judy could now reach all of her dresser drawers and not just the top two.
There was new carpet on the floor, fresh paint on the walls, and a new comforter on the bed. In addition, custom shelves were installed and the television was mounted on the wall. With everything up and out of the way, Judy’s bedroom had taken on the appearance of a pretty oasis and not just a place to sleep.
In the bathroom across the hallway, the vanity and sink were modified so that Judy could roll under them. A corner toilet and roll-under vanity were installed along with a new tile floor. They also replaced Judy’s rickety storage cabinet with recessed custom cabinets.
“I can get under the sink and turn around in the bathroom for the first time,” said Judy. The improvements were not just inside the house. Outside, Judy’s son, Robby, with a host of others, had built her a deck. There was also a brand new walkway from the back door to several raised flower beds — perfect for Judy who loves gardening. “They even left me some pansies to plant,” Judy smiled. “It’s all a Godsend. It feels so much more like home.”
The list of improvements just goes on and on: a new garage door, a widened doorway from the kitchen to the garage. A new front-loading washer and dryer. A new ceiling fan and light fixtures. A new laptop computer and printer — donated by Mary Immaculate Hospital — so that Judy can record her remarkable journey. To go along with her new computer, a lifetime supply of technical support provided by Jeff Kimble, a computer technician with ACT Management & Consulting, L.L.C.
But the beauty of it all is this: the seemingly endless list of improvements is a mirror image of Judy’s own generosity. “She gives and gives and gives and asks for nothing in return,” said Shaun Smith, president of Access 1st. “Judy is a person that has her difficulties and counts them as a blessing.”
Steve Zollos concurred. “After all Judy has been through, she hasn’t folded over and said, ‘I’m done,’” Steve said. “Quite the opposite.” And now, thanks to the generosity of so many, this woman who refused to give up on life has the opportunity to enjoy it to its fullest.