WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — John Karbowicz had just been treated for lung cancer when he agreed to help repair a friend's roof and fell head-first to the sidewalk below in October 2012.
After more than a year of rehabilitation for a traumatic brain injury, the 46-year-old city man received more bad news in January: He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Now, friends are coming to the aid of the once-strong and athletic cabinetmaker and his fiancee, hosting a fundraiser to help buy them a much-needed, wheelchair-accessible van.
"He hasn't left the house except for medical appointments since last summer," friend Chris Tampellini said. "We cannot get him from his wheelchair into the SUV ourselves, between the shaking and muscles atrophying. We can't bend him and maneuver him."
In fact, fiancee Rebecca Kiley said, Karbowicz hasn't been able to ride in an automobile without his wheelchair in nine months.
"He is strictly wheelchair-bound when we leave the house; he does not walk anymore or stand up on his own anymore, Kiley said. "We miss a lot of therapy appointments due to the service we use not showing up or showing up past our pickup time. I don't have a way of getting him out to do anything."
Kiley has been caring for him while also working at both Saint Mary's Hospital operating room and as a bartender at Cook's Cafe in Naugatuck, and she said it's been stressful.
"I do lose a lot of time at work," she said. "On his bad days I end up staying home with him. I really only leave for a few hours at a time. It's tough."
Working on very little sleep, she said, she needs to feed, wash and medicate Karbowicz, as well as fasten and unfasten his leg braces and change the TV channels for him.
Her daughter, Tiffany Bookless, a student at Naugatuck Valley Community College, also helps when she's not in class, Kiley said.
The couple also has many supportive friends, she said.
Those friends said they were shocked at how rapidly Karbowicz's health declined.
"He had made almost a complete rehab from that fall," Tampellini said, "He was suddenly having a lot of difficulty speaking, almost like a low, drawn-out slur, very difficult to understand."
She said his muscles suddenly began to atrophy and shake.
"We went to see them the end of January, beginning of February; that was the first time I've seen him in awhile," friend Tina Dambowsky said. "He can't feed himself, get up, he can't do anything."
The couple's friends have arranged for donations to be collected Saturday at Cook's Cafe.
Dambowsky said she's confident enough money will be raised to pay for the van, and hopes even more will be collected to cover registration, insurance and taxes.
"The winter has been very tough and long," Kiley said. "Without the van, we can't take him anywhere, so he pretty much sits in his recliner all day and all night."
Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com