JOYCE FREEMAN

Fort Pierce family needs help to restore the garage

By LESLIE GRAY STREETER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

To most, Cynthia Johnson’s Fort Pierce home is a comfortable, brightly decorated haven of neatly displayed art and immaculate white tile. But for Cynthia’s mother, Joyce Freeman, this beautiful home is an obstacle course. Its narrow corners make it a struggle to navigate her large wheelchair.

None of the home’s small bedrooms will accommodate her chair, or the cumbersome mechanical lift that helps ease her frail body out of bed, or the portable commode that she must use because the wheelchair won’t fit into the bathrooms.

And so this once-vibrant woman, who worked in area fruit packing plants as a teen, raised a family and served as a teacher’s aide until felled by the first of several brain tumors nearly 20 years ago, resides in the only room large enough to accommodate all the devices needed to keep her mobile — the garage.

Freeman suffers from hydrocephaly, or fluid around the brain. Until five years ago, she lived in a nursing home, but as her condition worsened, doctors advised closer supervision.

“Four people around her at the nursing home died in a row,” Johnson says softly, as her mother sits nearby, dwarfed by the wheelchair. “I didn’t want my mom around that.”

Theirs is a tight-knit family. When Freeman’s daughter Katrina died in 2001 of complications from AIDS, Johnson and her sister Gayle Jones took in her kids, including Aquala Freeman, now a bubbly but non-verbal 22-year-old stricken with multiple sclerosis. They do this cheerfully. But it’s become a struggle now that Freeman needs so much help.

To get her into the garage, she must be wheeled through the laundry room, past the washer and dryer, backed up slowly into a corner, then maneuvered down a wooden ramp that has started to give under the weight of the chair. The chair then glides over the rough floor of the garage to the bed. Family photos adorn her dresser, making it as homey as possible.

But all of the photos in the world can’t disguise the fact that this strong woman, who gave so much of herself, is sleeping in a garage. Her daughter Cynthia tries to be positive.

“I believe that God will provide,” she says. “But we need any help we can get.”

JOYCE FREEMAN’S WISH

Joyce Freeman’s family needs to renovate the garage that serves as her makeshift bedroom, the only room large enough to accommodate the many devices that keep her mobile. Her daughter would like help from a contractor to insulate the room, to replace the garage floor with suitable flooring to make navigating Freeman’s wheelchair easy, to build a closet and a separate handicapped-accessible shower, and to build a stronger, more durable ramp for her wheelchair. The family also needs a large van that could transport Freeman and her chair. The family has been struggling since the economic downtown and the intermittent unemployment of Johnson’s husband, who is in the home construction business, and would appreciate any donations for food, utilities and expenses.

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