Seabees use skills to help out amputee
Sue Smith of Laconia doesn't let the fact that she's a double amputee get in the way of going downstairs to the basement to work out on her exercise bike or treadmill every day. A local chapter of the Seabees has begun work on her home to make it more accessible, including making those stairs safer for her to use. (SHAWNE K. WICKHAM / SUNDAY NEWS)
Now a group of New Hampshire Seabees is bringing its "can do" attitude to make life a little easier for the widow of one of their own.
Smith has seen a lot of loss in her 63 years. Her father died when she was a baby, her brother died at the age of 14, and she lost her mother when she was seven months pregnant with her first child.
Then, three years ago, she suffered a rare medical condition, heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, which nearly killed her and resulted in the amputation of both legs above the knees.
"I want to have a life," she said. "I don't want to just sit in the chair. I'm doing the best I can."
Enter Tom Tessier, a financial planner from Nashua and a passionate advocate for his fellow veterans. He's been involved with the Veterans Count project that assists veterans and their families in the Nashua area.
And he knew just whom to ask for assistance.
The New Hampshire chapter of Navy Seabee Veterans of America, known as "Island X-4," has about 75 members.
On their list: insulating the basement, reinforcing staircases and railings, and making the tiny bathroom and kitchen more accessible for her.
John Hemeon of Rumney, commander of Island X-4, said the group is always looking for service projects. They previously built a gazebo at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, where the group meets the last Tuesday of each month.
Ray Vercoe of Laconia, the group's secretary, was a carpenter in the Seabees. After three tours in Vietnam and tours in Cuba and Spain, he returned home to run his own construction business for 37 years.
She manages to get down her steep basement stairs to use the treadmill or ride her exercise bike for 45 minutes every day. "It hurts, but I do it," she said.
She laughs about the times she's gotten stuck somewhere and had to wait for Josie to rescue her - like the time her legs fell off, stranding her on the exercise bike.
Her strong faith has gotten her through all the adversity in her life, Smith said. After her first medical crisis, a pulmonary embolism that nearly killed her, she said, "I was putting myself in God's hands. I knew he was going to take care of me."
"He always puts these wonderful people in my life," she said.
Smith said the hardest part has been giving up nursing. She can see people going to work at the hospital from her home.
Tessier, an Air Force veteran who did six tours in Vietnam, said Smith has been an "inspiration" to him and the others. He tried to get her assistance through the V.A. system and Veterans Count, but she didn't qualify.
So it was up to the Seabees to be Smith's white knights. "We don't ride horses. We ride bulldozers," Vercoe said with a grin.
"I feel his presence," she said. "To have these wonderful men in my life ... what a gift."
c/o Ray G. Vercoe
267 Gilford Ave.
Laconia, NH 03246