NJ HERALD ARTICLE 5.2.13
photos ® 2013 N.Hreha/Homestead Rehabilitation and HealthCare Center
Surprise delivery gives veteran with MS a little more mobility
Posted: May 02, 2013 12:10 AM EDT
Updated: May 02, 2013 12:35 AM EDT
By BRUCE A. SCRUTON
FRANKFORD -- If you plan to throw a surprise, get your stories straight. Don't have one person say a piano is
being delivered and another group suggest the surprisee join the "sunshine group" on the front porch.
Despite his disability, Tom Conklin knew something was up; that he was involved; and those around him wanted
it to be a surprise. He just wasn't sure what his part would be.
The surprise turned out to be a brand new motorized wheelchair.
Conklin, a resident of The Homestead for the past 11 years who has been fighting multiple sclerosis for nearly
four decades, was on the front porch at noon Wednesday when folks in American Legion and Veterans of
Foreign Wars hats began to appear.
While he has fought gamely against MS, the disease is slowly taking over to the point that Conklin could no
longer use a wheelchair to get around. Instead, he's confined either to his bed or to a reclining chair on wheels.
To make doctor visits, the 72-year-old was strapped to a stretcher and taken by ambulance to the doctor. Other
than the doctor trips and a couple of visits in the wheeled chair to the front porch of the nursing home, Conklin
had not been outside the facility in about 18 months.
On the porch Wednesday was his wife, Linda, also a resident of The Homestead and also using a wheelchair.
Her wheelchair is motorized so she can take daily "strolls" around the grounds.
She was the one who insisted he be on the front porch when the piano (which the nursing home needs) was to
Also on the front porch were staff and family, many of whom used the alternate excuse of the "sunshine group."
A few minutes after noon, a cavalcade of motorcycles crested the hill in the driveway as the music of "Ride of
the Valkyries" blared from a loudspeaker on one of the bikes. Right behind was a pickup with a brand
new motorized wheelchair strapped down in the bed.
Always a man of few words -- when he was told later to smile for pictures, the corners of his mouth twitched up
for less than a second -- there was a twinkle in Conklin's moist eyes.
The wheelchair was being delivered by Twilight Wish, a national nonprofit charitable organization whose
mission is "to honor and enrich the lives of deserving elders through wish granting celebrations."
While working with any senior citizen, the group focuses its efforts to those living in nursing homes and
"We're proud and honored to do this for you and thank you for all you've done for your country," said James
Ciervo, the New York regional director for Twilight Wish.
The motorcycles were ridden by a local veterans motorcycle club.
Jake Lighten, director of the facility, said Conklin is well liked and "I can't think of anyone more deserving than
Tom. He's a sweetheart of a person."
"This will give him a bit of freedom, something he's missed," Lighten said.
After Conklin was in his new chair, the celebration and picture-taking moved to a garden area beside the
parking lot, and even to a spot among the parked motorcycles.
In a short interview, Conklin was able to whisper some answers to questions. He served four years in the Air
Force and was stationed in Italy for a time, serving as a mechanic with a fighter squadron.
He let on that he knew something was up, despite all the efforts of family and staff.
"The two stories?" he was asked.
A quick smile and a barely audible "Yes" was confirmation.
While the wheelchair can be operated with a joystick on the armrest, Conklin doesn't have enough movement in
his arms to be fully independent. The chair does, however, include another joystick on the back for an attendant
and a long cord so the attendant can walk beside the chair and operate it.
"This will let you get out, right?" he was asked.
Conklin's eyes lit up a bit and he mouthed: "Oh, yeah."
When an attendant noted that now he and his wife could go for "walks" outside and spend time together, he
didn't need to say anything: His eyes again got misty and the corners of his mouth went up in a smile.
This time, it was for more than a second.