He's been there
Triple-amputee contractor building for boy with similar disabilities
MANCHESTER -- Laborer. Job-site supervisor. Role model for a handicapped 8-year-old. It's all in a day's work for Eric Duchesne, a triple amputee who uses determination and ingenuity to make a living running his own contracting business.
The 44-year-old has been doing such work for a dozen years. But this week's job at a Hillhaven Road home in the North End is special, he said. He is installing the deck for the family of Carter Mead, 8.
Born with a condition called tretramelia, Carter is missing bones, resulting in anomalies on all four limbs.
Like Duchesne, Carter has only one hand to grab an object. Like Duchesne, he can only use his other arm to brace or prop an object, whether a toy or piece of lumber. And like Duchesne, Carter's sneaker attaches to a leg-like, high-tech rod.
Yet, Duchesne directs a crew of two and drives a nail or wields a circular saw as well as they. And as he worked Thursday, an inspired Carter assembled a toy structure with a child's building kit.
"He's a walking, talking, breathing role model for Carter," said Carter's father, Mike Mead. "He's a hands — a hand-on — kind of guy."
Duchesne lost three of his limbs in 1991 when he was 19. He was home from college and decided to do something he had never attempted — hop a slowly moving train. When the train picked up speed, he started jumping from the top of one boxcar to another.
He made his first two jumps, but when he didn't clear the third, he fell between the boxcars. Investigators estimated that as many as 55 freight cars ran him over, he said.
He lost portions of his right arm and both legs.
"I was young, dumb and stupid," Duchesne said.
Duchesne said he worked a few years at a white collar job. But he yearned to work outside, so in 2001 he started Decks-N-More. At times, business was so good that he kept three crews busy, he said. Now he just works with a single crew.
Duchesne uses his left hand to grab a plank and hoist it to the deck. He then uses the "nub" of his right arm to align it before he cuts the board with a circular saw.
At another point, he trusts his prosthetics enough to brace himself while using his entire body's weight to nudge a vertical post into alignment.
"He only has one arm, no legs. Amazing," Carter said.
Duchesne said the leg prosthetics, supplied by Next Step Bionics and Prosthetics of Manchester, make it easy to work. His right prosthetic is bionic, with a computer-controlled knee that locks, releases and pivots based on the experience of the user.
The deck comes in handy for the Meads. Carter's left lower leg and foot had to be amputated when he was 6 months old. Amputees face problems staying cool in the summer because they have less skin area for perspiration, said Carter's mother, Kelliann Mead. So the family recently bought a pool, which necessitated an extension of their deck.
Kelliann said she was impressed with the deck Duchesne built at Next Step, and when she found out he was a client, she insisted he do the work at their house.
"For us, it's not just a deck," Kelliann said, "it's a life experience for Carter."