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Nonprofit group gives Woods Cross woman her energy, freedom back

Published July 5, 2012 11:28 am

Nonprofit group Ability Found gives woman her energy, freedom.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Donna McCormick believes in spinach-rich green smoothies, the friendship of animals, and civic engagement.

Most of all, she believes in doing good to others and keeping a positive attitude.

"Always keep smiling," she said. "You just do for others what you can, whether that's cooking or gardening or [smiling]."

A Wood Cross resident for nearly three decades, McCormick is actively involved in the community, including serving on two independent living boards and the Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities. A local and national advocate, McCormick lives and works daily with the added challenge of multiple sclerosis, a progressive disease that affects the central nervous system and results in impaired walking ability, muscle spasms and other painful symptoms.

But McCormick recently received a motorized wheelchair from Murray-based nonprofit Ability Found that will help restore some of her freedom and energy.

McCormick said although myriad challenges still exist, the June gift has been a blessing.

"Having [the wheelchair] to use helps me to not overexert myself, so it makes it so I can get through my day a whole lot easier," she said.

Ability Found's mission is to provide medical and rehabilitation equipment free of charge to people with disabilities who cannot afford it. People are prevented from getting equipment themselves for reasons including lack of insurance and inability to afford a copay, said CEO and founder Ernie Robison.

A biomedical engineer and father to a disabled son, Robison started the foundation in 1993 with his wife after recognizing the need for enabling equipment through his son.

"I saw how my son plus others couldn't get the equipment they needed," Robison said. "I saw the frustration that parents and individuals go through when they want to do something and can't."

The group, which donated more than $1 million in equipment last year alone, works with service providers like the University of Utah Rehabilitation Center and Primary Children's Hospital, who apply to the foundation on behalf of a client. The nonprofit then assesses client needs and works to find the correct equipment, either from donated items or by using cash donation to refurbish items.

Robison said the organization maintains a donation ratio of turning every $1 donated into $3 toward the cause and does a real service to people, who are in turn willing to help out others.

"Sometimes people won't be able to get [what they need] for only $100 or $150…then later on they can donate back if they desire," he said. "It's really a good service [and] very fulfilling to me to see miracles in lives."

McCormick, who was referred to the nonprofit by the MS Society and lives alone with her dog Pepper, said she plans to continue the cycle by pointing others toward the organization.

"Ability Found has been very helpful and personally is a godsend for me," McCormick said. "But what's more important is if I run across people that might need help, it's another resource for me to refer somebody to."

Michael J. Workman, owner of Professional Therapies and a contracted physical therapist with Ability Found, said donations allow recipients to save their money and insurance benefits for other expenses, as benefits only cover one wheelchair every five years.

"It gets extremely tricky from a therapy standpoint [to] take a lady like Donna who has a progressive disease…and have a wheelchair that works now and in three years," Workman said. "In Donna's case, we've…shaved off the amount of time for her to use her wheelchair benefit [and] donated a chair that will tide her over for the time being."

A standard motorized wheelchair like Donna's costs about $5,000, while other styles can reach up to $30,000 depending on specifications.

Workman said reactions to donations from Ability Found are generally positive, but at times it can also be hard for clients to accept the equipment — and their need for it.

"[Clients] are very appreciative to the point of tears…but it's a conflicting thing. I'm never sure why people are crying," he said. "It's overwhelming for them and we just try to support as best we can."

The group is particularly in need of specially equipped vans to donate and accepts a variety of equipment, although as an eBay-registered charity, it also encourages interested parties to sell items online and donate the proceeds directly.

Living with MS provides daily challenges for McCormick that others may overlook, such as climbing into bed. For several years, McCormick has slept in a reclining couch, but she hopes to be able to sleep in her own bed soon with the help of other assistive equipment, such as a ceiling-anchored lifting device.

After her diagnosis in 1995, McCormick started practicing yoga to preserve core strength and later became certified in special-needs yoga to support others. One of her more recent crusades was to help petition Woods Cross to add curb cutouts for wheelchair access, which she says are great — except for how street unevenness still causes trouble for many.

"The road is too high or it's broken and it causes you to tip, and it's not just me…It's moms walking their kids in strollers," she said.

As she works toward remedying this and other goals, McCormick said she hopes more people will grasp the need to be kind to all — those with disabilities both seen and unseen.

"A disability is an ability, not a disability, if you see it in a different way," she said. "Someday I hope somebody will go back through me and understand that MS has a different face, a different time. People need to be open and kind…and they don't need to be scared."