This is the second post in a two-part series on Tyler Simmons’ effort to help a paralyzed friend. For the first part, click HERE.
Maria Heavener huffs into the on the other end of the phone line as she tries to catch her breath. The motorized ramp that lifts her paralyzed son, Ricky Chang, into the family’s conversion van is broken, again. She’s not sure how much it’ll cost to fix the ramp, but she knows it won’t be cheap.
It’s one of the many financial hurdles Heavener and her husband, John, have had to face since Ricky broke his neck during a BMX biking accident in 2008. When Maria speaks, you can feel the stress in her trembling voice.
“The financial part is overwhelming,” she admits. “It’s appeal after appeal with the insurance companies. We’re really maxed out and can’t afford to take out any more loans.”
This summer, VCU cross country runner Tyler Simmons, as well as friends Andrew Kenny and Kevin White, hope to ease some of the Heavener’s financial strain. The trio is organizing a bike trip across the United States to raise funds for Chang and his family. Through “Bike America: Ricky Rides Again” they hope to raise at least $20,000. Ten percent of that will fund the trip itself.
Simmons, Kenny and White are currently in the fundraising process for the 3,745-mile journey. In addition to individual donations, they’re seeking corporate sponsors as well.
The Heaveners have been juggling finances since Chang’s injury. While the trip would not solve all of the family’s money problems, Maria says it would make a significant difference.
John Heavener is a test engineer at Parsons. Maria was a tour and sales manager with Gaylord Hotel and Resort, but had to quit after Ricky’s accident to care for her son. She recently began working part-time at Macy’s to help with the bills.
Chang spent nearly three months in a rehabilitation facility in Atlanta immediately following the injury and requires care seven days a week. Chang, who was paralyzed from the neck down, has regained movement in his arms, but not his hands.
Maria says Medicaid pays for a nurse for a certain number of weeks, and then she has to take over Ricky’s care when the money runs out. The family is also on the hook for the co-payments of Ricky’s numerous medications, as well as transport to and from a rehab center in Baltimore.
Ricky initially received a fully-electric wheelchair, but after he regained use of his arms, he moved to a manual-assisted chair. Maria says the new chair allows Ricky to feel active and is less cumbersome than the hulking, electronic one.
“It’s very important psychologically for people with these types of injuries to return to their previous lives as much as possible,” Heavener says. “He was so happy when we got the new chair. He can go to his friend’s houses and things like that. It’s changed his life a lot.”
But the chair also cost $9,000. Batteries for the chair run out every 18 months or so, and they cost about $1,200 she says.
Ricky would like to attend the Art Institute to study film, but the family does not yet qualify for federal assistance, and Maria says they cannot afford more loans. They’re still paying on the van and the wheelchair, for starters. She hopes, more than anything, that “Bike America” will allow Ricky to attend college.
Simmons and Chang, as well as their families have been close since high school. Simmons and his mother drove to Atlanta to visit Ricky during his rehabilitation. Still, Maria has been blown away by Simmons’ commitment to “Bike America”.
“Ricky’s an amazing kid and he has amazing friends,” she says. It’s so humbling for these guys to do something like this. I’m not surprised because that’s the way these guys are, but I’m surprised how committed and excited they are.”
“Bike America: Ricky Rides Again”, is scheduled to begin June 1, 2012 from Chang’s house in Manassas, Va. The trio expects to reach San Francisco on July 12. To donate or for more information, visit http://www.rickyridesagain.webs.com/.