Saturday | May 30, 2015
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Ramping Up

A 79-year-old stroke survivor has one less obstacle to deal with after volunteers recently built a ramp at his Kini Loop home in Kailua-Kona.

Roughly seven years ago, while cutting a hedge in his yard, Richard Gouveia, a former county Department of Water Supply employee, had a stroke. It affected the right side of his body, leaving him unable to walk or feed himself.

With intense rehabilitation, medication and lots of support, Gouveia has come a long way. Though the numbness and pain lingers, he is able to get around using a walker. He also exercises on a treadmill and stationary bike on his lanai, under the watchful eye of his family, caregivers and friends.

Still, Gouveia has spent years stuck in his home or on the lanai because he couldn’t physically leave on his own. Walking is tricky, and so are the stairs inside his two-story house. To make his appointments or take him on outings, two people were always needed to escort Gouveia up and down the 13 steps.

His 77-year-old wife, Fanny Gouveia, said helping Richard navigate the stairs took all of her strength and she would often pray for no incidents. He fell once, breaking his left arm, she added.

The couple no longer has to worry, thanks to the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise, HPM Building Supply and Kona Adult Day Care Center. These organizations supplied the funds and manpower to build a 25-foot-long ramp from the second floor lanai, which eliminated the need for Richard to traverse stairs.

The project cost $1,100 and took two days to complete. Kona Adult Day Care Center supplied a $350 grant from the Teresa Hughes Foundation, which was matched by HPM Building Supply. The remaining funds were donated by the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise, said Rotarian Cliff Kopp. “As to the real value of the ramp, what else but priceless,” he added.

The idea for the project came from former Kona Rotarian Laura Guluzzy. When visiting last fall, Guluzzy mentioned a similar project a California club did and spoke of the need for volunteers to build ramps for people with disabilities who are trapped in their homes. Basically, these people cannot physically build them and typically do not have the money for construction, either — problems that exist nationwide. Through research, Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise members discovered ramp building projects have occurred also in Texas and New Jersey, but always on a one-time basis, Kopp said.

Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise President Barbara Kossow and Kopp never forgot about the project or its impact. Fortunately, Kossow also knew someone their club could help immediately.

For years, Kossow has been friends with the Gouveias. She first met Fanny when they both worked in the banking industry. Whenever Kossow can, she helps the couple, including providing caregiver relief or volunteering to take Richard to see his doctor. She has witnessed the daily difficulties Richard has endured and overcome. She knew how the Gouveias had longed for such a ramp at their home, which would make things easier, but couldn’t afford one.

When Kossow first mentioned the opportunity to have volunteers build a ramp for Richard, she said there were tears in his eyes. “He knew it would not only open up all sorts of opportunities in regard to access, but it would also make things safer for him, his family and caregivers. He was grateful beyond words,” she added.

Richard took his first steps on the ramp on April 27, and it has made a world of difference, Fanny said. She spoke about Richard’s happiness in regards to finally being able to pick the mangoes off the lower branches of their 37-year-old tree again. Fanny and Calvin Haena, a caregiver, have also noticed more confidence in him.

“We still can’t believe we have this beautiful ramp,” she said. “We’re so thankful and happy. We really appreciate everyone’s kindness, generosity and hard work.”

By sharing this good deed, Kopp hoped it would inspire other service organizations in Hawaii to replicate similar projects because of the need. He said the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise plans to do another ramp project in the future.