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Plymouth girl, family receive a life-changing home renovation

Abby MacCurtain, 8, of Plymouth, who suffers from Leigh's Syndrome, a rare disorder that limits both speech and mobility, was wheeled up her sidewalk Wednesday by Plymouth North High School's Brenna Tobin for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The hallways in Abby MacCurtain’s home in Plymouth were barely wide enough for her wheelchair to fit through. None of the showers in the house were large enough for her to use. And there was no ramp up to the front entrance, so the gleeful 8-year-old had to be bounced up and down the front steps anytime she wanted to go outside.

On Wednesday, Abby and her family celebrated the renovation of the three-bedroom home that will make it easier for Abby to navigate the space. She has Leigh’s syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that limits her speech and mobility.

Construction costs were covered in full by New England Design + Construction and a grant from the Edwin Phillips Foundation, which provides financial assistance to families of children with physical or mental disabilities.


Abby spun around in her wheelchair with her nurse, Joy Giamo, in front of her renovated home before a ribbon-cutting ceremony.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Changes to the home include widening the entrance hallways, installing a paved ramp up to the front door, moving the laundry room to the basement to make room for a wheelchair-accessible shower, knocking down low-weight-bearing walls to open up the space, and creating a room for Abby to receive her medical care in.

“It’s a life changer,” Heidi MacCurtain, Abby’s mother, said by phone after a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “It helped us maximize our house in the day-to-day. So, Abby is able to do a lot more in her own home.”

Abby wasn’t expected to live much longer than two years. But she defied the predictions — each birthday a milestone her parents never would have imagined.

“She has low tone in her core, so she can’t sit up unassisted. She can’t talk, she’s nonverbal,” MacCurtain said. “But she’s cute as a button.”

Abby washed her hands in the new accessible bathroom sink.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

When Abby’s family received the grant from the foundation, they didn’t know how they would stretch the money to cover all the needed renovations. The family’s neighbor, however, was the mother of Mike Banville, a project coordinator at New England Design + Construction. She urged him to see whether the company could help.


The company reached out to its network of vendors and contractors, asking them to donate supplies and labor. Almost a dozen of the contacts signed on.

With the help of the company and donors, the MacCurtain family completed a renovation that would typically cost $75,000 for only $25,000.

“That’s why we do what we do as design builders — to see the joy people get out of the spaces we build,” Banville said. “This is probably the most tangible way to see that, with a little girl who gets to have full functionality in her house.”

The ramp was built last fall, and the rest of the construction took place over 10 weeks this spring.

Abby’s experience of being at home has changed drastically. Her family used to push the dining table against a wall so Abby could get her wheelchair by. Her medical treatments, which she receives multiple times a day, now take place in a designated therapy room, rather than the middle of the living room.

Abby and her 6-year-old brother, Tomas, have room to play hide and seek.

“It’s very rewarding,” MacCurtain said. “You mourn the life you wanted for your child, but to watch them engage in normal sibling things and watch them get enjoyment, it’s special.”

Abby and her 6-year-old brother, Thomas, cut the ribbon.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at ysabelle.kempe@globe.com.