Sunday, September 17, 2000

Generosity astounds accident victim

        If you've resigned yourself to the notion that human beings just don't care about one another any more, read on.

        Last month, I wrote about Heather Sturgill, a hair stylist who was on her way to work at the Total Eclipse salon in Mount Lookout on April 15, when she broke her neck in an auto accident.

        With the help of her husband and friends, Mrs. Sturgill is working at adapting routines and regaining as much physical function as possible. But wheelchairs, ramps, and home health care costs are expensive, and the Northside couple have been struggling to figure out how they will pay for everything.

        The response to their story was tremendous. I received dozens of letters and e-mails from readers who wanted to help. Her mother wrote to ask that I let readers, who may not recognize her married name, know that she was formerly Heather Ashmore, a 1989 graduate of Amelia High School. Family members of other quadriplegics wrote in support and empathy.

Mentor steps forward

               Leslie Turner, a Northern Kentucky University accounting professor, wrote that he was a C-5 quadriplegic of 26 years and would like to talk to Mrs. Sturgill to offer help.

        “He's become my mentor,” Mrs. Sturgill smiles. “He showed me his van, and how to do pressure relief for myself. (For quadriplegics, the constant immobility invites pressure sores. Shifting weight properly is an important piece of prevention.) He made a donation and bought me a subscription to a magazine, New Mobility,for quadriplegics.”

        Reading about the immense financial burden of health care and equipment, many readers simply sent checks. Mrs. Sturgill was particularly astonished by one generous reader who wrote a note, with no return address or signature, simply saying, “Heather, I was moved by your story and wanted to help.”

        “There was a cashier's check,” she explains, “and the person obviously took great pains to make sure the signature was illegible. The check was for a thousand dollars! It is absolutely amazing to me that someone would have that kind of money to give away and want nothing in return, no recognition whatsoever.”

        Due to the donations and the two successful yard sales held by Mrs. Sturgill's friends, she now has both wheelchairs — a manual one for moving about her home, and a motorized chair for longer distances. She is proud and pleased that she has progressed to a point of being able to push herself across one room in her manual chair with quad knobs. “My therapist,” she says, “has a lot of faith in me.”

Helping at home
               The generosity keeps coming. Nancy Nead, a former client of Mrs. Sturgill's, realized when she read the article how much she missed her hair stylist. She now helps with lunch every Friday, and her teen-age son is tending Mrs. Sturgill's garden.

        On Sept. 9, Tracey Bender, owner of Total Eclipse, went beyond her original “cutathon” fund-raising scheme to an all-day festival of sorts on Mrs. Sturgill's behalf. In addition to 10 stylists (three of them from other salons) donating their time and talent for more than 100 haircuts, a yard sale, bake sale, and raffle were conducted in front of the shop.

        “We're like a huge family here,” Tracey Bender says of the community of customers and stylists who contributed to the effort.

        One client, who works for Hasbro, donated toys for the sale. Another, who is an architect, donated blueprints for the building of Mrs. Sturgill's ramp and the modifications to her bathroom. Businesses on Mount Lookout Square contributed products for raffled baskets, and many simply donated money. Loyal customers delayed hair appointments until Sept. 9 in order to see Heather Sturgill, who was on hand and smiling to greet old friends throughout the day.

        “I am just so totally amazed by the outpouring of love,” Mrs. Sturgill said. “Cincinnati is a wonderful place to live.”

        Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. E-mail:


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