That happily ever after that so many of us dream about is not to be for Kirsten and Eric Lino, tragically interrupted by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The Jackson Township couple — in a rush to make the best of the here and now, and buoyed by the support of friends and strangers — are hurriedly renovating a ranch-style house they recently purchased with the mission of providing safety and as much comfort to Eric as possible.
The Linos are presently living in a multilevel home that Eric can no longer navigate, inside or out. It was beautiful and functional in their former life, but now, circumstances being what they are, they were desperate to escape it, trying to put some manner of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation.
I invited myself to the Linos’ home back in August to find out how they’re riding out the unimaginable storm, “to listen, to observe, to share their story and strong faith,” I wrote.
This latest chapter, the Thanksgiving in their lives, is being written in large measure by caring readers of this column who responded to the 43-year-old Eric Lino in a very human, he-ain’t-heavy-he’s-my-brother way.
Kirsten has been married to her beloved for 13 years and they have two daughters, 18-year-old Sierra Grahovac, who recently joined the Marines, and 17-year-old Mariah Lino. Kirsten was happy to share the good news:
“The woman who contacted you regarding the [wheelchair-accessible] van ended up being a great fit. While she couldn’t donate the van to us, she did come down to a price that worked for us and so now we have our wheelchair van. She is a wonderful woman and we really connected with her. She lost her husband a short time ago and so we have been able to connect on a very personal level …
“As far as our housing situation, we purchased a Freddie Mac foreclosure property because it’s about all we could afford. Our house still has not sold.”
Kirsten called it “a pretty involved project to renovate the home, but it is an open floor plan. It will be perfect for Eric to have some freedom to get around and even outside. We have had an outpouring of support from our church, the community and also the union groups have stepped up to help since my husband was in the union for 23 years. He formerly worked at the Wonder Bread bakery in downtown Akron until it closed in June 2010.”
Not long after that Eric, working as an apprentice with the Iron Workers Local 17, suffered an on-the-job injury, a bad cut on the face. In his family doctor’s office, he complained about an unrelated problem with his right hand and arm. His doctor referred him to Akron General Medical Center neurologist Hugh Miller, who after a battery of tests diagnosed ALS. It is a rapidly progressive, brutal neuromuscular disorder for which there is no cure.
Back to the renovation.
“We are able to stay in our school district too which is a huge plus,” Kirsten said.
“The house has turned out to be a full gut/rehab, and approximately two-thirds of the house is down to the studs. It has been overwhelming some days because I am acting as my own general contractor while caring for Eric and holding down a full-time job! And I have to tell you I know very, very little about construction or renovating; so it has been an interesting adventure …
“The project has also turned out to be far more involved, and more expensive, than we thought. Also, Eric continues to decline rapidly, and I will be looking at taking a leave of absence from work some time after the first of the year.”
Even so, Kirsten and Eric will be the first to tell you that there are blessings even in the midst of their storm.
“The people helping us, this is the part that is amazing,” Kirsten began her tour of gratitude. “The list is so long. …
“The DMO Foundation and Ott Electrical are doing the upgrade to the electrical in the property, plus Joe Ott has personally helped with the demolition and tracking down others to help with the project, including getting donated items.” Joe Ott’s brother Devan was diagnosed with ALS in 2009 at the age of 22. DMO’s noble mission is building handicapped-accessible housing or renovating properties for people with ALS or other neurological diagnoses.
The Linos’ list of volunteer helpers also included the following:
• Tim and Deb Finley and their sons Tim and Alec, of Finley Plumbing and members of the Linos’ church (First Baptist Church of Jackson) donated their time and the installation of new plumbing and a new sump pump, and have provided help for demolition and tracking down donations.
• Dave Hawk of Four Points Architecture provided drawings and architectural advice, including attending contractor meetings.
• Tim Finley Sr. and Dave Hawk advocated to get assistance from Famous Supply, and John Palermo of Famous provided reduced pricing for kitchen and bathroom cabinets, fixtures, windows and other supplies. Famous also donated half of the cost of the roll-in-shower.
• Finley worked with Moen to get an additional 50 percent off on the tub and shower fixtures, sink and faucet.
• Curly Goebel of Goebel’s Quality Construction, another church member, donated time and resources to the framing and carpentry.
• Tim Corrick of Mount Corrick Construction, a longtime friend of Eric’s, helped with demolition and will help install windows and cabinets.
• Barrington Carpet donated carpet for the bedrooms and vinyl flooring for the sunroom.
• Mathie Supply offered to help with brick to close in one door and window area.
• Phil Cox of Buckeye Mechanical and Controls, another church member, did the HVAC.
• Sherwin-Williams in North Canton donated 15 gallons of paint and primer.
“I also have to give props to our neighbor Julie Taylor who has been knocking on the door of almost every building supplier in the North Canton area, and many of the donations are to her credit,” a very grateful Kirsten Lino continued.
“Also, probably 30 or 40 people from my church have volunteered in some capacity to help do the demolition, cleanup and so forth. Many have come on evenings and weekends to help. And there are also several people from my neighborhood who have done the same.”
Home Depot gave a $100 gift certificate, a manager at Lowe’s is offering a discount, and Carter Lumber is offering to donate or discount some items. Ohio Valley Flooring is giving flooring at a discount. “I also have a verbal from my friend Kelly Kerber, who is an interior designer, that the tile for the bathroom, and the blinds for the sunroom, will all be donated. But we’re waiting for confirmation.”
An Eric and Kirsten Lino Benevolent Fund has been set up at FirstMerit Bank (any branch) to help complete this project, for which time is quickly running out.
“We would love to be in before Christmas,” Kirsten wished out loud. “But it would pretty much take everything going perfectly, and that rarely happens! My primary concern is snow and ice because once it sets in, Eric will definitely be trapped in our house because there will be no safe way to get him in and out.”
Here’s to an even greater coming together momentum to help the Linos get into their new home before Christmas, which hopefully won’t be their last.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.