SUMNER — “I made a promise. It was time to come good,” Maureen “Mo” Libby wrote on her shared living provider application for the state when she decided to bring her wheelchair-bound and mostly nonverbal son, Chad, home.
Before the two could live together again in the three-story barn-turned-home on Butterfield Road in Sumner, Libby had to secure a handicapped accessible van so she could transport Chad to his day program, doctors’ appointments and other outings. So she looked on Craigslist for the first time ever.
That’s where she found a 2008 Toyota Siena van in Old Orchard Beach. It has a magic wand pointer and, when tapped to the rear taillight, the door opens, the van shifts to the ground and out pops the ramp. The woman who was selling the van — who only wanted to be identified by her first name Magda — had the van for her daughter, Rachel, who suffered from spina bifida and died unexpectedly at the beginning of October 2014.
“I don’t know how I am going to do it, but I need wheels,” Libby says from the kitchen of her barn home Sunday afternoon. “That van (is) crucial. … I think that’s the hardest thing about having someone like Chad is getting out and getting places.”
Libby says Magda lost her caregiver job when Rachel died and was afraid the van would be repossessed.
“I will make your payments, your credit will not go bad,” Libby recalls telling Magda before picking up the van. Magda in return told Libby she never advertised on Craigslist before and Libby says she never looked there either.
“We felt it was something that was meant to be. … She tells me, too, ‘I know my daughter would have wanted me to help you.'” Libby says. “It’s funny, I feel like I’ve known her forever.”
Libby was added to Magda’s insurance and plans to purchase the van outright after she raises enough money. Hence the reason she launched a GoFundMe campaign. As of Wednesday morning, $600 of the $20,000 goal had be raised.
“There’s a side of me that doesn’t want me to ask for help,” Libby says, who reluctantly started the campaign and hasn’t pushed it until now.
She knows there’s more expenses coming since she brought Chad home from Getchell Agency in Bangor at the end of October 2014. Chad has cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia — which limits the movement of his arms and legs — among a number of other health issues like diabetes and thyroid problems. He needs constant care. She wants an automatic lift to help her get him and in and out bed and his wheelchair. She’s currently using a manual one and can’t move his 150-pound body without help. She applied for a new prescription for a new wheelchair since since Libby discovered her son had an undiagnosed dislocated hip for two years and he needs a new, more comfortable chair. And she knows Maine Care won’t pay for everything.
Libby lost her alpaca farm, Sunday River Alpacas in Bethel, in a divorce roughly four years ago, not leaving her with much. She admits she got herself in decent debt using her credit cards so she could retrofit the barn in anticipation of Chad living at home once again.
“I decided when I was bringing him home, I was going to have everything he needed,” Libby says, adding she spoke with Chad before making the final decision. “He was like, ‘hell yeah!’”
She adds his caregivers in Bangor told her Chad was so excited to come home. And just because Chad — who turned 27 the day after Christmas — can only physically say “hi” and “play” doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what’s going on.
“Chad’s very smart. He understands everything you say to him,” Libby says as he smiles in agreement from his wheelchair, clad in his fleece football pajamas in anticipation of the big game on Superbowl Sunday.
She adds that despite his physical limitations, Chad is a normal guy who loves football and racing. He particularly loves playing Mariokart on the Wii and zipping around his remote control cars. And he makes friends wherever he goes. He has a girlfriend in Bangor and she waits by the door for him when he comes to visit. Walking around the mall in Bangor, Libby finds out that people know her son by name, many calling out and waving and some stopping to chat. And he wasn’t even home a week when a friend from high school dropped by, bringing Batman costumes for the trio to wear for the day. At his new day program at Hope Association in Rumford, one of the employees told Libby she’s never heard such a loud rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“For somebody nonverbal, it amazes me the amount of connections he has with people,” Libby says.
This is why Libby loves being able to spend time with her son, who she calls “a huge, huge mama’s boy.” When Chad turned five, Libby was in her mid-20s and wasn’t able to care for her son and work full-time. And during that time, there was no shared living provider option and Chad first lived in Montello Manor in Lewiston.
“All I wanted to do is take care of my kid and they couldn’t help me. It’s been my goal to bring him home,” Libby says, adding she wishes she’d done it sooner. “The reason I hadn’t brought him home before this is I was scared to death the help wasn’t there.”
Libby says Chad gets sick at the drop of a hat and has almost lost him to pneumonia two or three times.
“I live every day like he could not be here tomorrow. It’s been Chad and I for all of our lives. If I do lose him, I’m not going to have anybody to share him with,” Libby says, who’s since changed that, taking photos and videos of Chad and herself and posting them on her Facebook page. “I’m very glad I did. Chad hasn’t been sick a day since he’s been home.”
Some people say to her how hard it must be being Chad’s caregiver. Libby couldn’t disagree more.
“This is what I deal with every day — laughter, happiness. He’s just a joy,” Libby says as Chad laughs when his mom asks him what he did with her phone. “To listen to him laugh every day, to not worry … I’m in seventh heaven.”
To donate to the Libbys’ GoFundMe campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/dg58iw.