By Janis Fontaine
Special to The Palm Beach Post
David Whaley of Boynton Beach is 46 years old, but he can’t walk a step, can’t speak a word, and has never read a book or played a video game. Still, the dauntless devotion of his mother, Linda, 65, has given David Whaley the best possible life.
Until March, when the coronavirus quarantine began, David attended programs at Palm Beach Habilitation each day. He laughed at his friends’ antics, enjoyed listening to music and happily socialized with the caring staff.
This forced social isolation has taken its toll on mother and son.
“We’re social,” Linda says. “David likes to have people around. Now we’re shut-ins.”
David was born in a hurry at 6½ months in 1974. He was healthy at birth for a baby weighing just over 2 pounds, but much needed supplemental oxygen wasn’t given at birth and David suffered a brain hemorrhage that caused permanent brain damage, a lifelong seizure disorder, intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy. His other health problems include allergies to everything from soup to nuts and the inability of his brain to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid, requiring a surgically placed shunt.
The good news: David loves to eat — “he’s the pasta king, and he loves pizza,” Linda says, and she laughs a lilting, melodic laugh, a tidbit of joy that punctuates all her conversations.
David was blessed with his mother’s pleasant nature and a wicked sense of humor. Music is another lifeline, and David carries a tiny cassette player everywhere he goes. He likes hard rock and classical, but especially loves Polka music and, right now, Christmas carols.
He convinced his mother to get out the Christmas tree, but the lights are broken. David asks about them every day, because even though David doesn’t speak, he has his own language.
Linda is incredibly patient with her son. To her, David’s life was stolen from him at birth, and she owes it to him to make the most of it. “He deserves to have the best life he can have. I’ve seen how hard he works, like the first time he walked when he was 5.”
These days, David’s biggest challenge may be his mother’s aging. Linda has had heart problems in the past, and she broke her leg in a fall a few years ago. She continues to do the best she can.
“I have to do what I have to do,” she says, “and his strength makes me stronger.” Still, lifting 130 pounds of dead weight requires real power.
David has lived and thrived much longer than any of the doctors or the data predicted. A settlement with the hospital about 40 years ago provides David with a monthly annuity which was realistic in 1980 dollars, but now doesn’t stretch far enough for the family to afford the expensive equipment that would make moving David easier. Assistance in the form of a Hoyer lift and a Quickie wheelchair “would add 20 years to my life,” Linda says.
Linda takes time each day to pray and thank God for what she does have.
“David is blessed in so many ways,” Linda says. “He has a lot of normal tendencies. I never felt sorry for him. I punished him if he needed it because I do not reward bad behavior. Sometimes it was a battle of wills, and he’s very strong willed.” And she laughs.
The best thing will be when David can return to the Habilitation Center, but until there’s a vaccine for him, those plans have to wait. But with the right equipment, day-to-day life will be a bit easier for the devoted mother and son.
David Whaley is a 46-year-old man with cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and a seizure disorder. Linda, David’s 65-year-old mother, cares for him in their Boynton Beach home. For the last several months, pain in David’s hip has kept him from bearing any weight on one leg, making it harder for Linda to move him. David and Linda would benefit from a barrier-free Hoyer lift to get David in and out of bed, into and out of the shower and to the toilet more easily. David needs a Quickie wheelchair to work hand-in-hand with the lift for easier mobility, and a shower wheelchair that Linda can roll into the shower. David would sleep better in a hospital bed, which would allow Linda to raise the head of the bed to ease his breathing, which is often labored, a result of his many allergies. The family needs money to improve the accessibility of the home, including widening access to the bathroom and building a wheelchair ramp for the front door.
Nominating agency: Palm Beach Habilitation Center.
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