Marathon victims get help making homes accessible
Volunteers donate time, skills, materials
NASHUA — Between Brigham and Women’s and Spaulding Rehab and the Brigham again, Martha Galvis spent 76 days hospitalized after the Boston Marathon attacks, dreaming of home.
And though her life is not what it was before April 15, her home — a tidy split-level in a quiet subdivision in Nashua — is exactly the same. Which poses a problem.
So many of the small things that Martha Galvis and her husband, Alvaro, had never considered about the home where they raised three children are suddenly obstacles: the layout of the shower, the lack of handrails on both sides of the stairs, even the many doorknobs that now strain Martha’s good hand, which tires easily.
Enter the Boston Survivors Accessibility Alliance, a volunteer network offering free home-accessibility modifications for Marathon victims.
“Right after the bombings it occurred to me that there were going to be survivors who would need work on their homes,” said Public Safety Commissioner Thomas G. Gatzunis, whose department organized scores of volunteer architects, engineers, contractors, trade unions, and inspectors. “The last thing I wanted people to do is pay for something that we can have donated for them.”
The alliance’s first home visit — to plan renovations for the Galvis home — occurred over the border in Nashua, with cooperation from Granite State officials. It underscored the way the Marathon bombings galvanized an entire region.
Gatzunis said everyone he contacted — the electrical workers and the plumbers union, the lumber retailers and the elevator installers — said the same thing: “How can we help?”
Others found him, like the Boston Society of Architects’ “Renovate for Recovery,” which took shape in the aftermath of the bombings to offer free renovation design for Marathon victims.
Within two months they had established a network of expert volunteers, pledges from product and material suppliers, a formalized application process for victims, and a chain of command to put teams together and assign them to projects. They secured $200,000 from the Legislature in case some specialty items could not be obtained through donations.
What they did not have were victims. Because of health-care privacy laws, the alliance could not reach out directly to anyone injured at the Marathon — including the 16 who lost legs and three dozen additional victims who spent at least a week in a hospital.
Only a few applications have come in so far, including the one from the Galvises, who learned about the alliance when one of their daughters discovered it online. (The program offers its services confidentially, but the Galvises agreed to include the Globe in the alliance’s home visit, to help spread the word to other victims.)
Though the Galvises applied only for a new shower — barrier-free, with grab bars — their project team asked for a full tour, to identify other parts of the home that might pose problems.
The idea, said architect Gretchen Schneider Rabinkin was to, as much as possible, make it so “you can live in the house as you did before.”
The Galvises spoke softly. “Right now I feel good to be home, but it’s hard, so hard,” said Martha, a 60-year-old who has been forced to give up her job as a preschool assistant teacher. “We are lucky to be alive, that’s the major thing.”
Both suffered shrapnel wounds in their legs. Martha’s wounds included severed nerves, requiring her to learn to walk again, and shattered bones in her fingers, one of which was amputated.
They watched from the hall as Schneider Rabinkin, another architect, and a home builder toured the house with Martha’s occupational therapist, Kristen Malinko.
In the bathroom, Malinko asked if they might also get a comfort-height toilet and a light over the shower, asking tentatively, unaccustomed to free renovations for her therapy patients.
No problem, said Scot Pratt, of Granite Rock Construction. “If we can put a man on the moon, we can do that,” he said. The same was true for the low drawers in the 1980s vanity that were now hard for the Galvises to open. Pratt promised to replace that — “and we’ll put a granite countertop on it. They don’t know it yet at the granite place, but we will.”
Within two hours, they had a plan to swap out 13 internal doorknobs with lever handles, rebuild the front steps — rickety and not broad enough for a walker — and replace a storm door that has a balky push-button handle.
“It’s a whole new set of needs,” marveled Al Galvis, 62. “Little details that we didn’t think of. Wow.”
“Easy,” said Pratt, as the team promised to draw up documents and finish the work — quickly, in a month — without a bill for the Galvises. “We can do this in our sleep.”