BRATTLEBORO—Musician and filmmaker Wyatt Andrews is leading the charge to get his friend Laura Momaney a new power-assist wheelchair.
Andrews is producing a multimedia benefit show on Oct. 13 at 118 Elliot. It features what he called “a nice eclectic mix” of musicians, including Elliot St. Alibi, If Not I Than Who Then, Jatoba, Deep Seize — Andrews’ two-man band with percussionist Jed Blume, who wrote the text accompanyng the crowdfunding appeal — and visual artist Ben Keating.
The show will feature a silent art auction with donations from area artists Becca Blust, Jonas Fricke, William Hays, Tom Jenks, Heather (Feather) Miller, James Primrose, and Momaney, who will also do a live chalk drawing at the show.
Andrews is still collecting musicians and artists, and expects to add to the roster by showtime.
Locals may recognize Momaney’s chalk art from her public pieces on Metropolis’ storefront, at the Restless Rooster, and in KidsPlayce.
Andrews promises food at the benefit show, too, and plans to accompany Momaney around town, “hitting up local restaurants,” he said.
‘What can I do?’
“The event is the official kickoff of the crowdfunding campaign — www.youcaring.com/laura-momaney-658970 — to raise $11,000” for Momaney’s new wheelchair, he said.
“I have no doubts we’ll raise that in no time. There’s no more worthy cause for people to throw bucks to. It’s helping you get around!” Andrews told Momaney.
“It’s amazing how many talented people and professionals — artists, musicians, business owners — have stepped up and said, ‘What can I do?’” Andrews said.
For Momaney, the thought of raising $11,000 — and having to ask for help — is overwhelming. During an interview with The Commons, she frequently got teary-eyed when Andrews described the ways he and other community members were committed to helping her.
Momaney is used to doing things herself, regardless of — or maybe in spite of — the limits polio has placed on her ability to access places many others visit with ease.
The wheelchair she currently uses is powered solely by her arms, and is lighter, collapsable, and more portable than more common varieties.
A host of challenges
But, “this wheelchair is literally falling apart,” Momaney said. The left brake is broken, a wheel is breaking down, and relying only on her upper body strength, as developed as it is, limits her ability to traverse the hilly terrain of Brattleboro.
“Sometimes I wake up with a panic attack” at the thought of the wheelchair completely breaking down, Momaney said.
Plus, a springtime tendonitis injury hinders Momaney’s ability to climb the incline of Main Street. Often she wheels herself over to the Transportation Center and catches the elevator to Elliot Street — except it’s often out-of-order, she said. Then, Momaney heads back to Main Street, waits to see one of her many friends, and reluctantly asks for a push.
“Nothing makes me feel more like an invalid than having to get someone to push me,” Momaney said.
“My experience of downtown Brattleboro is very different from most people’s, and people don’t realize that,” Momaney said. “I’m completely blocked off from so many places. It’s really isolating, anxiety-building, and depressing,” she added. “I just want people to know that. It takes a mental toll on me."
A manual chair, like the one she has now, but with a power-assist motor on it to help her navigate hills, will change Momaney’s life. “I spend up to 20 hours a day in my wheelchair,” she noted.
“I can go to Price Chopper, Putney Road, up and down Main Street, to my doctor, on my own,” she said, noting the power-assist’s motor will even allow her to travel by wheelchair to Keene.
“I still want to use my physicality as long as I can,” she said, explaining why she doesn’t want a fully-powered chair.
Frustration with the process
She described the process to try to get a new chair as “long and tedious.” Although her doctor, occupational and physical therapists, and medical supply store representatives have supplied Medicaid and Medicare with recommendations and documentation, Momaney said all she gets are letters stamped “denied."
Momaney explained that Medicaid and Medicare cover only those devices that grant her full access to her home’s interior. She noted the irony: Living in an apartment she can get around in prevents her from getting a wheelchair to open up life beyond its doors.
“If I had one impediment in my home, that would do it,” she said.
“Wait, they think leaving your apartment isn’t necessary?” Andrews asked.
Momaney assured Andrews that Medicaid will pay for a “medical” wheelchair — uncomfortable, heavy, and not portable — but “I can’t get around like that.” It would further confine her in town, and prevent friends from transporting her and her chair out of town in all but the largest vehicles.
“It makes me feel depressed, neglected by society,” Momaney said of having so few options available from the entity that’s supposed to support her health and well-being.
“But that’s just the government!” Andrews said to Momaney, adding, “the community here is stronger than that system. It’s going to pull through for you."
“I’m starting to comprehend this” — getting a new wheelchair — Momaney said. “I’ll be able to get around."
“It’s about you having access to the entire community,” Andrews said.
“But, if you didn’t put yourself out there, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” Momaney said to her friend.
“Plenty of people want to help,” Andrews said. “I’m the only one unabashed enough to poke people."