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Paralyzed teen returns to newly remodeled home

Danny Cox adjusts from rehab center to his remodeled granny unit; community rallies to support him

Published: Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 10:26 a.m.

The Petaluma teen paralyzed in a swimming accident was scheduled to return home to a newly remodeled home that better suits his new needs on Wednesday, but the reality of a more limited life has dampened his spirits.

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Danny Cox is shown in a still photo from one of his latest video reports at Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Facility in Vallejo.

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“He came home on Sunday, and when he saw the changes, it sent him into a spiral,” said Maureen McGowan, referring to her son, Danny Cox. “In the hospital, he could deal with things such as catheters and medications, but it's much more difficult to do so at home.

“Everything is different than it was for him: It's not like having an injury that he can recover from. But it's a matter of either dying or living with it.”

Cox suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed from the chest down after doing a flat dive into shallow water at South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 10. A wave from a nearby boat apparently pushed his head into the sand.

He was airlifted to Renown Medical Center in Reno, and later transferred on Aug. 20 to Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Facility in Vallejo.

“He will have home nursing for a while,” said McGowan, adding that he will probably be taken to the Vallejo facility three days a week to continue his rehabilitation.

Community groups have been collaborating to remodel Cox's granny unit, which is located behind his family's main house. Rebuilding Together Petaluma is coordinating the effort, and is collaborating with Art Diaz General Contractor, the Carousel Fund, Disability Services and Legal Center, Ghilotti Construction and Shamrock Materials.

“It's been a very exciting thing for us to be involved with,” said Jane Hamilton, executive director of Rebuilding Together Petaluma. “Usually, we don't intersect with, and help, families at the very time of a crisis.”

Rebuilding Together Petaluma is a local nonprofit organization that provides home modification and repair services free of charge to people and organizations in the community that need assistance.

Ghilotti already has laid concrete in the driveway and installed a sidewalk.

“The driveway consisted of broken-up asphalt, but now it's smooth,” McGowan said.

Doors have been widened and the bathroom has been remodeled to include a roll-in shower and ADA-compliant sink.

“Danny wants to stay in the unit, but there was no wheelchair access, so he couldn't get to it. So, Ghilotti did it as a gift to the family,” said Hamilton, adding that the work would have cost $15,000.

The project also consists of installing an electronic chair lift, replacing fixtures and adding a ramp.

“The ramp needs to be built in the next couple of days,” McGowan said.

Around $50,000 was raised at the 23rd annual Carousel Fund Casino Night at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building this month to help pay for some of Cox's medical expenses that aren't covered by his insurance. Medical and rehabilitation expenses are estimated to be around $500,000, but some $100,000 won't be covered by the insurance.

The event, which Cox attended, is the main fund-raiser for the Carousel Fund, which helps families who have children with catastrophic illnesses. Besides the money raised for Cox at this year's event, approximately $200,000 was raised for other families.

Also at the event, a custom-made dollhouse — made to replicate a late 1800s Petaluma farmhouse — that Rebuilding Together Petaluma obtained and refurbished was auctioned off for $1,300, which is being used to help remodel Cox's granny unit.

The Petaluma community has organized additional fund-raising events for Cox. On Saturday, a Pyramid Party at Heritage Salvage raised funds. Upcoming events include an alumni football game between Casa Grande and Petaluma high schools at 1 p.m. at PHS' Durst Field on Saturday, Oct. 16, a tournament at Rooster Run Golf Course on Oct. 22 and a benefit concert featuring some of Petaluma singer-songwriters Larry Potts, George Merrill, Bruce Kurnow and Hannah Jern-Miller at 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 at United Church of Christ.

Also, Fabulous Women Making a Difference, a group of local women who regularly pitch in to help charitable causes, has organized a benefit for Cox from 1 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Sova Gardens in Sebastopol. Attendees are asked to bring food or drinks to share, and to make a minimum donation of $20. Hillside Fire, a local band, will be playing, children's activities will be available, and a raffle and dessert auction will take place. More information can be obtained by contacting Krista Gawronski at littlepepper16@hotmail.com or 799-2153.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)

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