THE SCLAFANI FAMILY STORY
Joe Sclafani came from a family with strong values and Italian tradition. He attended Loyola High School in Towson where he embraced the value of being a “man for others”. After Loyola, Joe attended Towson State where he played football from 1993-1995 and graduated in 1996 with a major in Business Administration and a concentration in Finance. After college, fulfilling a lifelong dream, Joe enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served in the Marine Corps Reserves for 8 years. In October 2002, Joe met his best friend and love of his life, Monica. A year later they wed and began their life journey.
While serving in the Marine Reserves, Joe became a sales rep for Bradco Supply and he moved up in management rapidly. Over the years, Joe built a strong network of professional contacts from within the building products industry, enjoying a career with 3 major distributors. Currently, he has holds a position in Sales/Marketing with the Roof Center. Joe is a hard working dedicated father who has provided everything for his wife and daughters, Samantha (5) and Jessica (2). From the perspective of his little girls, Joe is their ROCK!!! Not only is he big in stature (6 foot tall and 235 pounds), he is big in heart. He is full of life and was always the first one willing to help a family member, friend or person in need.
Suddenly on October 30, 2009, their lives were changed forever. Unexpectedly and without explanation, the C5/C6 disk bulged and compressed Joe’s spinal cord. During surgery, his doctor found another obstacle, an infectious abscess that had encapsulated itself into his spinal cord as well. The pressure from both the disk and abscess resulted in Joe being a quadriplegic. After two surgeries, the swelling was relieved in the spinal column through a fusion of bone vertebrae with titanium rods and screws. The children believe their Daddy just has a “boo-boo” on his back right now and he just can’t get up. Of course, in reality, Joe’s condition is much more serious. Joe goes to Kennedy Krieger for rehabilitation three days each week, four hours per day. His therapy is focused on strengthening his arms and hopefully regaining use of his fingers and the prospect of eventually walking. Anyone who knows Joe realizes that he will relentlessly battle this setback everyday. Joe will never quit, especially with his girls as motivation.
Prior to the birth of her daughters, Monica worked as a commercial property manager. While the girls were young, she planned to be a stay-at-home mother, but now Monica is Joe’s sole caregiver and nurse, in addition to her role of mother. Joe is dependent on her for everything! He is not able to move himself at all. Monica uses a manual Hoyer lift to get Joe in and out of his wheel chair. The current system is dangerous and a hazard to her health. She has to steer this apparatus with Joe in it in a 3 x 3 area while leaning over to move his weight and that of the hoist. It is a strain on her back each time that he gets in or out of the wheelchair.
The fact remains that Monica is doing everything on her own. Monica is making every effort she can to not let this situation change her family’s life any more than necessary. Monica gets up at night every three hours to turn Joe from side to side so that he doesn’t get bed sores and still stays awake during the day to take care of her girls. She has not slept a full night since October 29, 2009. She transports Joe and the girls to all of their appointments and school. She truly tries to maintain a normalcy for her daughters to make sure their lives are happy and stress free. Monica’s motto is “It’s all good”; she refuses not to feel sorry for their situation and forges ahead to make it one happy day at a time! Monica has now become the “ROCK” of their family.
Although they live in a ranch-style house, Joe can only access 20% of the house on his own. He cannot access his daughter’s bedrooms to read to them, kiss them goodnight, or play with them due to the size of the hallway and the entrance sizes of their rooms. He is also not able to go outside and watch his girls play due to the terrain of their yard. He can only watch from the sliding door off of their kitchen. Since the master bedroom door was widened, Joe can access it; however, in order to fit the lift needed to move Joe and necessary medical supplies, they sleep in separate single beds and their dressers and clothes are kept in the garage. The one bathroom in the house is not accessible with an ever smaller entrance than the girls’ rooms. Joe has not been able to feel running water since October. He gets “bird baths” every day lying in bed.
The Sclafani house needs some reasonable modifications and a modest addition to create a handicapped- accessible house that would change the quality of their lives and assist Joe with being more independent. Joe & Monica have thought about making some renovations to their house but the money they receive from disability is not enough to pay their current monthly bills.
- A new addition would allow for 1 floor efficiency and quality of life improvement and function.
- Widened doorways would grant access to the children’s rooms for bedtime stories and goodnight kisses.
- An additional bathroom and shower stall with handicapped access would alleviate the need for bed baths. Since Joe is at risk of getting infections, a separate bathroom would also allow proper storage and sterilization of his medical supplies and the children would not be exposed to infectious materials.
- Access ramps throughout the house and exterior would give Joe more opportunities to interact with his family and to play with his daughters in the backyard.
- A deck would allow the family to dine together outside during the spring and summer months and give Joe the ability to interact with girls in the backyard.
- Home entertainment would be on one level, so Friday “movie night” would not be confined to Joe’s bedroom.
- Increased closet space would give enough room for Joe’s and Monica’s clothes to be stored accessibly (not in the garage, attic, and same dresser tucked in their closet).
- Increased bedroom space would accommodate the size of a Hoyer lift (5'x6') and storage of medical supplies in 3 drawer dresser and a 7 drawer cart.
- If possible, a powered ceiling Hoyer system would (physically) help Monica.
- A new expanded one level home may allow Joe (and possibly Monica) to work from home.
- The ability to be mobile throughout the entire house would increase Joe’s independence and interaction with his family.
The family inspires many people in the community with their ‘can-do’ attitude. At one point in early 2010, Joe and Monica applied to ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for an opportunity to be selected. Joe appealed to the TU Football Alumni Council to help write letters of recommendation in support of their home renovation.
Monica wrote, “We are just an ordinary family trying to accept our new normalcy; there isn’t anything extraordinary about us. I know many of you have heard me say ‘I just want Joe’s hands’. I think I ask for the little things; we do not need an extreme home makeover (there are many more deserving people), I just want a bathroom for Joe. So I am hoping that if we get a lot of nominations, [ABC] will realize that we are extraordinary and have impacted/inspired a lot of people’s lives with our story. Just a few improvements to help Joe be independent will also give him the pride and dignity that he has lost! I want my husband to feel like the man he is!!”
The chain of emails eventually found its way to one TU football alumnus- Rick Trott and his sister, Deb Poquette, a REALTOR® who also happens to volunteer extensively with the Willis McGahee Foundation. She forwarded the information to the Partnership for Housing Foundation as an application for the MARYLAND HOME MAKEOVER™ program. Because so many friends and contacts rallied to assist the Sclafani family, the project was endorsed by the Harford County Association of REALTORS® in June 2010 and the Partnership for Housing Foundation gave final approval for the project in July 2010.
Congratulations to the Sclafani Family!