Toward the end of summer, many college students were finishing up summer classes or returning from vacations. Meanwhile, on Aug. 23, Pi Kappa Phi along with Tyler Ambucs worked to build a ramp that would change the life of Kaylnn Baker who had just received grave news.
Her oldest daughter Lysa Sanchez was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Baker, a mother of 64 years, never expected that her 45-year-old daughter Sanchez, who went to the hospital in July, would be diagnosed with the disase.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh God I can’t deal with this,’” Baker said. “I was supposed to stay and talk to the doctors, but I went downstairs and talked to my youngest daughter. I told her, ‘I can’t do this because I’m not going to be able to comprehend anything they say.’”
No one expected this, which is fairly common with ALS patients.
The ALS Association explains that the beginning of ALS can be inconspicuous and is often overlooked. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord as defined by the ALS Association.
Symptoms of ALS can include muscle weakness, twitching, muscle cramps, impaired use of arms and legs, slurred speech and in more advanced stages shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or swallowing and sometimes complete paralysis, according to the ALS Association.
“[Lysa] already looks like a stroke victim,” Baker said. “She has the very slurred speech and a crooked mouth. It’s all on her right side.”
A recent trend of the ice bucket challenge has blown up social media with videos of men and women of all ages dumping buckets of ice-cold water on their heads in the name of ALS. The trend challenges the public to donate toward ALS research.
Sanchez’s three sons all participated in the ice bucket challenge in support of their mother. One of Sanchez’s sons who lives in Italy participated in the ice bucket challenge with his family. Another one of Sanchez’s sons got his entire company involved in dumping ice water on their heads.
“I think the ice bucket challenge brought awareness to the disease,” Baker said. “I love the ice bucket concept, but I think the donation is the key. They have raised a significant amount of money on this thing.”
There is currently no cure for ALS. Life expectancy for a patient with ALS is roughly two to five years after diagnosis.
“We’re all going to pass some day, some of us are younger than others,” Baker said. “She’ll be ready to go when it’s time to go. I might not be ready, but she’ll be ready.”
Sanchez is currently walking with a walker and has difficulty moving around on her own. Sanchez confessed to her mother that she couldn’t take care of herself any more. Baker told Sanchez that it was okay, because she was going to take care of her now.
When Baker asked Sanchez if she could still cook, Sanchez held up her arm and told her mother she could not even hold the spoon.
“I told her we’re rednecks,” Baker said. “I’ll get me some duct tape and we’ll duct tape that spoon to you and lean you up against the stove and let you cook. She knows I don’t like to cook.”
With Sanchez coming to live with Baker another issue arose. How would Sanchez going to get into Baker’s house? Baker lives in a trailer home with a narrow staircase that is difficult for even Baker to navigate.
“There is no way she could come out of this house without that ramp,” Baker explained. “Once we got her in, how would she get out? Without that ramp I’m not going to get her in and out of here.”
Baker applied to Texas Ramps, an organization that builds ramps for handicapped people who cannot afford to build one. Baker’s case was approved and Texas Ramps contacted the Ambucs organization in Tyler and asked them to build the ramp.
Much like Texas Ramps, Ambucs is dedicated to creating independence for people with disabilities.
Jesus Maldonado, the philanthropy chairman of Pi Kappa Phi, worked to get members involved on the project. Nine members of the fraternity partnered with Ambucs to build the ramp for Baker.
The young men who were involved on this project were Jesus Maldonado, Adam Herring, Taylor Kemp, Austin Doyle, Dylan Hare, Garrett Dupree, George Chem, Forest Simon, and J.P. Pinon.
“We were just looking for ways to get involved in the community and give back,” Maldonado said. “You don’t expect a college student to give up his Saturday to go out in the 100 degree weather to help out. You don’t expect a regular person to do that.”
The team arrived at eight in the morning on Aug. 23 and worked on the ramp until four in the afternoon, taking only a brief lunch break. In the end, the ramp was 51 feet long, one of the longest ramps Tyler’s Ambucs chapter has built.
“You really don’t know what they’ve been through,” Maldonado said. “You never know what little deed or big deed you can do to make people’s lives better. The feeling you get after you help someone is life changing.”
Sanchez will be coming to live with Baker on September 30. Baker plans on using the ramp nearly every day, whether it is to take Sanchez to appointments and trips to the hospital. Baker also believes Sanchez will enjoy using the ramp to sit outside during the fall or for going to places like Walmart so that she can stay connected to every day life.
“For these young gentlemen to come out and do what they did, to me it was just an amazing thing,” Baker said. “You’re fortunate to have that type of character of young men on your campus. You just don’t see that a lot.”