Cathy Jerome spent a year and a half watching her 3-year-old daughter’s legs lifelessly drag behind her on a treadmill’s conveyor belt, as the rest of her upper body slowly lurched forward.
Jerome would hit the stop button, then start again for what seemed like a hundred times every session.
Until the day she didn’t have to.
When Jerome’s daughter, Sydni Pecevich, finally took a step on that treadmill, it marked another moment in the young girl’s life where she defied the odds.
Sydni was never expected to walk. Nor was she supposed to reach the age of 3. Sydni wasn’t expected to make it out of the room where a team of doctors spent 12 hours operating on her 2-month-old body to remove an aggressive malignant brain tumor the size of a grapefruit.
On Wednesday, Sydni turns 8, and she is celebrating seven cancer-free years.
She also got an early birthday present Tuesday from Boston zoning officials, who unanimously approved a permit allowing Jerome to build a 75-foot wheelchair ramp on the side of her South Boston home, as well as an addition in the rear of the home that will give Sydni more room to move around.
Like Sydni’s recovery, the process that will ultimately lead to making the family’s Marine Road home handicap accessible, is nothing short of a miracle, said Jerome, a single mother to Sydni, 10-year-old Tari, and 6-year-old Tristin. The work will be done for free.
“It’s unbelievable,” said the 45-year-old, whose group of friends had already started a fund-raising effort to retrofit the home. “We figured we needed to make $5,000 every single week for 16 consecutive weeks or something, and we were not doing that.”
The work could start the end of this week, and is expected to be completed in time for Christmas thanks to an unlikely chain of events that led to Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office.
When Jerome applied for the special permits in September, the project request, like all others requiring relief from the city, was automatically sent to the Office of Neighborhood Services, which coordinates meetings between applicants and abutters.
Jerome’s application landed on the desk of Sean Regan, the coordinator for Jerome’s neighborhood. Regan set up a meeting with Jerome and heard Sydni’s story. Although in remission, Sydni was left with a series of disabilities that require 24-hour supervision, including her inability to speak, and dependency on a wheelchair and feeding tube.
At her special needs school in Weymouth, Sydni is able to use a gait trainer, a large two-wheeled device resembling a walker that has helped her gain mobility to the tune of 50 steps in a 30-minute span.
But the device is too wide to bring into the four-room, first-floor unit the family calls home.
The home is also too narrow to accommodate Sydni’s specialized wheelchair that affords her more support, so Jerome, with the help of personal care attendants, has to transfer the 4-foot-tall, and growing, girl into a smaller wheelchair.
“When she started taking these steps a few years ago it was unbelievable,” Jerome said. “But she hasn’t really progressed to the next level, and I really believe it’s just because of the lack of continuity between school and home.”
Realizing the urgency of Sydni’s needs at home, Regan sought help from Jay Walsh, Neighborhood Services director. Walsh reached out to Menino’s office.
“It was an easy ask,” Walsh said. “I think it’s just the desire of the family to stay together and doing whatever they can to make that their home, and make it more comfortable to live as one. You see the family’s devotion.”
Menino got in touch with the carpenter, electrician, plumber, and ironworker labor unions, and they all agreed to donate their work for Sydni.
“I’m proud that we can make a difference for such a brave and deserving young lady,” Menino said in a statement.
After being contacted by one of Jerome’s friends, Dorchester architect Bill Christopher is coordinating the process at no cost to the family. Christopher accompanied Jerome to the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Tuesday, where he gave a two-minute presentation before the swift approval.
“Ordinarily, this could easily be a nine-month project, but the city is working very closely with us to expedite permits, and the labor unions are stepping up,” Christopher said. “In a project like this, you don’t have to negotiate.”
Jerome said she had been anxious about the process for the past two years. “Even though in my heart I knew we weren’t asking for anything more than what we needed, I still was afraid,” Jerome said of the permit application process. “I walked out totally crying.”
Jerome, a stay-at-home mom dependent on the rental income from the two units upstairs from her home, said she is grateful to Regan for sparking the movement that brought all the right people together for Sydni. “I would talk to anybody and everybody who would listen,” she said, “but there was no real coordinator of all the pieces until now.”
A fund-raiser benefiting the project is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the L Street Tavern in South Boston.