Since becoming wheelchair-bound nearly two years, Watertown Deputy Town Clerk Pamela D. Desormo has had to rely on rides from family and friends to and from work, to go grocery shopping and to get to the school events of her 10-year-old daughter, Haylee.
Paralyzed from the waist down, Mrs. Desormo, 49, also needs help to get into and out of the car, each and every time she goes somewhere. And its been especially hard to get around this winter because of all of the snow, she said.
But she just may have found a way to get some more permanent help. And she needs your help.
The Watertown resident is one of 509 disabled people from around the U.S. and Canada participating in a contest to win a handicapped-accessible vehicle.
The Tampa Bay, Fla.-based National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association is looking for Local Heroes who have found ways to live their lives and help others despite being disabled.
From now until May 9, people can vote online for Mrs. Desormo and her inspiring story of overcoming her disability. Four vehicles tailored especially for the winners needs will be given away through NMEDAs National Mobility Awareness Month in May.
Supporters can vote daily for Mrs. Desormo, who said she would like to feel more independent.
Everyone says that Im not, but you always feel like youre being a burden, she said.
Suffering unbearable back pain for years, Mrs. Desormo faced a tough decision two years ago.
Doctors told her she would become paralyzed from the waist down if she did not have surgery to repair the thoracic area of her spine. The mother of three and grandmother of a 5-year-old had lived in agony all of her life, so she opted for the surgery.
Because of complications from the surgery, she was left a paraplegic and has been wheelchair-bound since.
Yet she continues to have faith and is convinced shell walk again.
A longtime friend, Town Clerk Catherine M. Caye Rich, heard about the contest. With that outlook on life, she figured Mrs. Desormo was a deserving choice, since the deputy clerk is both well-known and liked at Town Hall and around the community.
If everyone voted every day, we can do this for Pam, she said.
Another friend, Belinda L. Oliveau, nominated Mrs. Desormo for the contest, describing her as the epitome of a Local Hero who continues to achieve, persevere and help others despite her disability.
Pam has touched many lives through her ordeal and continues to do so, Ms. Oliveau wrote. She is always willing to lend an ear and offer encouragement whenever someone needs it. Many people have been inspired by her courage and never-give-up attitude.
Married for 30 years to her husband, Scott D., Mrs. Desormo still goes to physical therapy weekly and must see her doctors four times a year, she said. The van, she said, also will help her get to her doctors in Syracuse.
The dealers association sponsors the contest in its third year to promote mobility awareness and to make others mindful of the changing ways the world views people with disabilities. More than 18 million people in North America are living with restrictive mobility issues, according to the organization.
Voting is open to the public, and at least four customized, wheelchair-accessible vehicles will be awarded to the Local Hero winners. Last year, more than 2.3 million votes were tallied, with residents in Lexington, Ky., Villa Park, Ill., and Victoria, British Columbia, receiving vehicles.
This year, two Toyota Siennas, a Dodge Caravan and a Mobility Venture MV-1 will be given away. The organization will announce the winners in May.