Six local sisters raise funds for wheelchair-accessible van

By Katie Demeria

STRASBURG — Norma Dano and her six sisters were born and raised in the Strasburg area. They all still live within a few miles of each other.

The strong network of support her sisters created was vital to Dano throughout her life — at age 12 she began developing the untreatable Charcot Marie Tooth disease.

Named for the three men who discovered it, the disease is characterized by deteriorating muscles. The 69-year-old Strasburg resident has been confined to a wheelchair for 15 years.

Her sisters are still offering her support by working with the Mount Olive United Methodist Church in Woodstock, which they all attend together, in order to raise $15,000 for a slightly used wheelchair-accessible van.

Though she was not diagnosed until she was 30, Dano started exhibiting the symptoms of Charcot Marie Tooth disease many years earlier.

“I was falling down all the time,” Dano said.

Her sister Betty Wakeman of Maurertown, the oldest in the family, remembers when Dano’s legs started to grow weak.

“We lived in a house that had a lane to it, and I think she got off the bus that evening, and something happened. We had a time getting her up the lane, we almost had to carry her,” Wakeman said.

The disease is hereditary, she continued, but none of their living relatives could remember someone who had it in the past, so they do not know where it came from.

Though Dano was told she would not be able to walk past the age of 50, Wakeman said she lasted several years longer. She has been confined to a wheelchair for about 15 years, according to Wakeman.

“I tell you, it was really nice to walk,” Dano said.

The van Dano currently uses is fairly dangerous. Dano said she does not feel safe in it when driving to Winchester to visit doctors.

She only uses it to leave her house a few times every week: for medical appointments and to attend church and Bible study.

“She loves to go to church and her Bible study on Wednesday nights,” Wakeman said.

Wakeman and Dano’s parents passed away at fairly young ages: their mother when she was 67, and their father at 45.

The sisters stay close to each other now. Sisters Cathy Denton, Gloria Campbell and Sue Walker drive Dano’s van for her and make sure she is staying well.

Dano’s husband passed away two years ago. She spends most of her days with her caretaker, Dixie Plaugher of Compassionate Homecare, who helps her with daily tasks like showers and preparing meals.

“She comes over in the morning and fixes my hair for church,” Dano said.

Dano said, ideally, the new van would have air conditioning and a stable structure. Her current van leaks when it rains and has a broken door.

“Oh, it gets hot in there in the summer,” Dano said.

Four wheel drive would also be invaluable, Wakeman said. Dano lives along a steep, unpaved road and the current van cannot make it down in the snow. This winter she had to miss church and Bible study several times.

But Dano said a four-wheel-drive van is probably out of their price range.

“It would be nice to have, but I have to take what I can get,” she said.

The family is now reaching out to the community for donations in order to continue allowing Dano accessibility despite her limited movement.

Those interested in giving to Dano’s cause can send donations to Betty Bly, treasurer, at 628 Hahn Lane, Toms Brook, or through the Mount Olive Methodist Church in Woodstock.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com