One of WHCHC’s greatest pleasures is being able to provide apartments for those most at risk. The stories of how people find their way to WHCHC are just as miraculous as their apartments are to their lives! Enter Clara--a woman of independent means, diagnosed with polio at age 3, but now living a full and productive life regardless of difficulties. Growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Clara’s polio went into remission as she reached her twenties.
Even though Clara underwent surgeries every summer of her
childhood, she continued to thrive. “I never lived my life or
functioned in any way as a disabled person. I was fortunate to
work in a corporate environment all my adult life.” Clara had
even mastered walking without a discernable limp.
In 1999 however, Clara found her condition suddenly worsening,
and she was referred to the Rancho Los Amigos National
Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California, where she was diagnosed with Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), something she had never even heard of. “I went into a very dark place inside myself for a long time. Fear and denial took hold of my body and spirit--my mind was consumed with the fear of not being able to control my life and take care of myself.”
For fifteen years, Clara had lived in a two-story Victorian house. But once the PPS began to progress, and she broke her ankle, Clara could no longer climb the stairs. “For the last couple of years, I was actually crawling up and down the stairs, and paying a neighbor to take my power wheelchair apart and carry it downstairs and put it together again each time I needed to go out.”
With her physical condition failing, Clara finally confided her despair to her doctor. She had to admit she was no longer able to make decisions, set goals, or even think about how to live her life now with PPS. Her doctor immediately referred her to Rancho’s Vocational Services Program.
“From the very first appointments I had there, my life started changing in the most amazing ways” Clara says with a big smile and sigh of relief. “I started their Work Readiness Program in 2004, because I’ve worked all my life and wanted to do that again. That gave me the tools I needed to assess my own life, set goals, and develop a life plan.’’ They showed me--and are still showing me--how to learn, listen, and pay attention to my body as it changes. Knowledge is power, and their program showed me how to start taking my life back.”
After a two-year search for a ground-floor apartment she could afford, she suddenly heard about the opening of WHCHC’s Havenhurst building in the fall of 2004. She quickly got her paperwork together and sent in her application, having no idea what to expect.
Out of over 800 applicants, Clara’s name was drawn, but after her first interview she had to wait a few anxious weeks to hear the good news. With tears in her eyes, she remembers the day when they handed her a set of keys and said “‘Clara, would you like to see your new apartment?’” After years of actually having to crawl up and down a flight of stairs every time she had to leave her apartment, Clara was going to have a chance at life again.
“It all happened so fast after that,” Clara says, “that I decided to leave the past behind and bring very little furniture with me.” Arriving with few material possessions but, for the first time in years, a huge will to live--Clara Denson began her new life.
Then, another amazing thing happened. Only weeks after moving in, Clara struck up a conversation with a technician installing some accessible additions to her unit. She learned he had an opening at his medical equipment and services company for a Customer Service Representative. So, Clara had a new apartment and now would have a new job--and she has been working there for three years! Not only that, the company just happens to be four blocks from her new apartment!
Clara cannot say enough good things about the WHCHC apartment that gave her a new beginning, and the Work Readiness Program that got her back into the workforce. “I keep my Work Readiness notebook within hands’ reach always, and I often refer to it. I use the tools inside from day to day to keep myself focused. My teacher always tells me to work smart, listen to what my body is telling me, and that I can attain those goals and dreams to keep working longer and healthier.”