Student's school makes mother's wish come true Patterson DTC High staff builds wheelchair ramp

December 23, 1998|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

It broke Wendyln McKinney's heart knowing that her son, Diello Harris, would have to sit outside waiting for neighbors to lift him and his wheelchair into the house and out of the freezing snow or pouring rain.

Before she died in February, McKinney had tried for three years to get a ramp at her East Baltimore rowhouse so Diello, who has muscular dystrophy, could come and go as he pleased.

Thanks to faculty and staff at Patterson High School, where Diello is an 11th-grader, one of McKinney's lingering wishes has been realized. Starting in October, they built Diello a two-tier wood ramp in time for the holidays.

"It'll be a lot easier because people won't have to pull me up and down the stairs," said Diello, 16. "I can go to the store or the park when I want."

With about $2,400 in labor and materials donated by teachers and a local business, Patterson science teacher Warren Wiggins designed and led the ramp construction in about five weeks.

They formally presented the ramp to Diello and his family yesterday at their house, in the first block of N. Patterson Park Ave.

Since Diello and his family moved in with his grandmother three years ago, he had been at the mercy of neighbors and family to make it up and down the home's five-step entrance.

The only time he'd leave the house was for school or trips to the hospital, said Merle McKinney, Diello's grandmother.

Too weak to do it herself, Merle McKinney said it was frustrating having to wait for help. Often, she said, she would go outside and sit with Diello until someone came along.

Last winter, Diello waited in the snow for several hours until someone could help him into the house. His younger brother, Gregory, 11, brought him blankets from the house to keep warm.

When this story was told to Harris' case worker-teacher, Janet Williams, Patterson High got involved. Williams told Assistant Principal Selma Curry, who told Principal Laura D'Anna.

"Patterson has its own angel network," Curry said.

Williams said she contacted Wiggins, known for building and fixing things.

"In what usually takes six months to a year, we did in about one month," Williams said.

For the first two weeks, Wiggins researched construction options and filed for permits to build.

Because of Diello's bulk, Wiggins said, he had to build a larger ramp than usual.

The Department of Public Works helped expedite the permit process, Wiggins said, so he could have the ramp built by Christmas.

The city receives about one request each month for permission to build wheelchair-accessible ramps, mostly from older residents, said Bob Murrow, a public works spokesman.

Requests for younger people happen about once a year, he said.

"I think it was something we needed to do," Wiggins said.

On Sunday, Diello took his first test run on the ramp.

"I went up and down as many times as I could," he said.

Said Merle McKinney, "This is the best Christmas present we could have."

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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