Candita Crawford remembers well the day her son Kelvon Lewis was born. Because of lack of oxygen to his brain, Kelvon was born with what the doctors called multiple neurological and musculoskeletal deficits.
By CAROL POWERS
Special to The Star
The pulmonologist, the neurologist, the gastroenterologist, they were all there, Crawford says. They said, You can leave him here or take him home. He wont live more than two months. Alone in her hospital room, Crawford prayed for guidance. She heard the words, Take him home and love him.
Now 12, and weighing 75 pounds, Kelvon cannot speak, is paralyzed and must have all of his needs met by his mother and a close circle of family, friends and caregivers but, Crawford says, His eyes speak volumes.
Elizabeth Birds delivery was normal. But a day before she turned 5 months old, her legs stopped working, says her mother, Susan Bird. Doctors discovered a tumor in Elizabeths spinal cord.
The surgery to remove it was successful, but it left her with no control over her legs and core. She uses a wheelchair but otherwise is a curious, lively 4-year-old who wants more than anything to be independent. She inherited the familys tall gene and is over 3 feet tall and weighs more than 60 pounds.
As any parent of a child with special needs knows, the simplest task becomes complicated and often physically taxing.
The waterloo for many such families is the bathroom, which, for starters, is often too small to accommodate the 5-foot minimum turn radius for a wheelchair.
Enter Jake Schloegel, owner and president of Schloegel Design Remodel, a 34-year-old Kansas City firm that specializes in home remodels using the principals of universal design, also called barrier free design and design for all. Simply put, that means designing everything in the home to be aesthetically appealing and as usable as possible for everyone regardless of their age or ability for example, lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs.
Three years ago, Schloegel was looking for a community service project. He decided he wanted to do something for families who struggle to care for a special-needs child in a normal house.
The result is the Big Splash, a yearly contest in which Schloegel picks one family from a list of nominations to receive a new bathroom tailored to the familys special needs. The Kansas City-based Love Fund helps get the word out about the contest through its extensive list of service providers.
This year, Schloegel selected two families, Kelvons and Elizabeths. The new bathrooms, each about a $25,000 gift, were presented to the families in a big reveal Feb. 7.
Susan Bird remembers the day in November when Jake Schloegel called her cellphone. He said, Wed like to know if it would be OK if we worked with Elizabeth to build her a new bathroom. I started crying and everyone at the office thought something terrible had happened. I called my husband, and he started crying.
Candita Crawford was talking to friends when Schloegels call came. I started screaming and crying. My son had a caregiver that day, and he came running in to see if I was OK, she said.
Debby Allmon, vice president at Schloegel, and designer Amy Boeshaar had to design for two very different uses.
Kelvons bathroom and living quarters would move downstairs, where he could exit the house from the ground floor directly into the garage. The front door and steps couldnt accommodate his wheelchair, and Crawford had been carrying him up and down the stairs whenever they needed to go somewhere.
Schloegel created an oversized bathroom, about 100 square feet. The central feature is a 9-by-4-foot tiled, curbless shower that Kelvons wheelchair can be rolled into. Its essentially open, but curtains on rods can be drawn so the steam is contained, which helps his bronchial issues.
They installed a rain showerhead with LED lights that blink red when the water is too hot, a hand-held showerhead and new lighting.
They relocated the sink and vanity to free up space for a drying area with a heat lamp next to the shower. A new vanity has the better lighting needed to safely mix and measure Kelvons medications. Carpenters widened the bathroom door to 3 feet.
Elizabeth needed a bathroom that she can use as she grows up and becomes stronger. Someday shell be able to transfer herself on and off the toilet, so the design called for moving the vanity and toilet to give her more space next to the toilet and a straight shot into the room. She has a new, bigger shower with a heat lamp and a ramp base so she can roll in and out.
At the sink, we did the new floating countertop, Allmon said, explaining that Elizabeth can roll under it like a table. A tilting mirror at the vanity can be adjusted, as Elizabeth grows taller.
Carpenters made the bathroom door a pocket door so she doesnt have to get around the swing of the door opening in. The doorjamb looks the same but the door slides back into the wall.
Crawford cant say enough for the Schloegel team. Some people will make you feel bad that you need their help, she says. But they would ask me how I would like something done. I said, You guys are the experts. They said, But you live here, and we want it to be right for you.