By Bailey Wright
SOUTHINGTON — A local father says his 15-year-old son has made significant progress after he suffered a spinal cord injury last summer.
Ken Catlin said the family is taking things day-by-day and learning as they go. Learning how much space their son, Ryan Catlin, needs to move around in a motorized chair, learning how to take care of his new medical needs, learning how to pay for everything.
“The only way to describe this is overwhelming,” Catlin said. “It’s really the only word that comes to mind that can even remotely do this justice.”
Last July, Ryan Catlin suffered a severe spinal cord injury while vacationing with his family in Maine. He lost control of his body from the chest down, but has been slowly regaining some arm movement.
To accommodate Ryan Catlin’s new situation, the family is in the process of adding to their home in Plantsville to make it more accessible for his motorized chair and to have space for things like a chair-accessible shower and bed.
They’ve been working on the addition for about three months and hope to complete it in the coming months.
“From six months ago not knowing this was going to happen, this is actually moving very, very quickly,” Ken Catlin said. “All things considered, it’s going great.”
Once completed, Ryan Catlin will have a larger bedroom and private bathroom on the second floor, where he’ll be close to his parents. His space will have it’s own heating system, so he can regulate the temperature, something important to his medical needs.
Some local businesses have also donated entertainment equipment.
The house is also getting an elevator and the garage will be extended for more room for a covered ramp so he can get in and out of the house. Ken Catlin said the project has felt like a crack in a windshield — one small change ends up extending into more and more that needs to be done.
While construction on the house is underway, Ken Catlin and their daughter, Lindsey, are still living in the home, while Ryan and his mother, Amy, are living nearby with family.
Ken Catlin said it will be great when the family can settle back in, Ryan with his own comfortable space. “We need to get him home, and into this house,” he said.
Local businesses have been donating time to the family, including flooring, heating, ventilation and painting. “It just goes on and on with various folks donating time, services, materials, and things.”
“The community has been fantastic,” Catlin said. “There are a lot of people reaching out to help us on their own time, and we gratefully appreciate that.”
One of those companies is IBEW Local 90, a New Haven-based electrician apprenticeship program with an office in Wallingford. More than 10 volunteers will do free wiring work in the Catlin home.
“We’ve been in the community for a long time and we just want to start giving back, so this is kind of our way to give back,” Brendan Smiles, one of the apprentices, said.
Some community members have also held fundraising events to help offset the family’s new costs. Donations can be made online, at YouCaring.
“Amy and I could so easily be overwhelmed by everything that we’re experiencing, and with all that we have going on and everything we have to do to take care of him, this could be very crushing,” Ken Catlin said, referring to community’s support. “It’s really lifting a huge burden off our shoulders.”
Ryan Catlin has been taking classes online, thanks to help from the “fantastic” Southington High School system, said Ken Catlin. One teacher reached out to Microsoft and Ryan was surprised with a new laptop last week. While at the store, Ryan had a second surprise— skyping with Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell and a few other players in their locker room.
In addition to studying, Ryan spends his time watching television and movies and has started playing some iPad games. In late November, Catlin took his son to Pittsburgh to see his favorite football team, the Steelers, play on his birthday. The family had on-field access before the game and got to meet some of the Steeler’s players, including wide receiver Antonio Brown and Boswell.