My Stay at Rish Park

By Scott Andrews

My name is Scott Andrews. I'm a C-5/6 quadriplegic from Waterford, Wisconsin. Recently while searching the web, I came across a park in Florida that was developed specifically for the disabled community and their families to enjoy nature, the beach, and the Gulf of Mexico, barrier-free. I immediately began making plans to make the trek to Rish Park.

Being a quadriplegic, I require help in multiple ways. I use a power wheelchair and don't drive, so I enlisted the help of my longtime caregiver and friend Jayme to join me, as she has traveled with me in the past.

Coming from Wisconsin, we're not used to the strength of the Florida sun, especially after a long Wisconsin winter. After spending part of the day lying on the beach, my caregiver began feeling the effects of too much sunshine and became sick. We went back to our cabin to cool off, but she was getting worse. I was afraid because we were so far from home and there was no one there familiar with the type of care I require.

That night, the park manager Victor Rowland stopped by our cabin to see how we were doing. Jayme was now extremely sick. Victor offered to get us some take-out food, as neither of us had eaten and it was late. It was also quite evident that Jayme was too weak to help me into bed. Victor then said, "Tell me what to do, Scott. I'll help you."

I'm not an easy transfer, especially for someone who is not trained for it. Victor transferred me from my wheelchair to the bed, made sure I was comfortable, and promised to check on us in the morning.

Jayme had a rough night, still unable to keep anything down. Victor came by early to help me into my wheelchair (another difficult transfer) to get me ready, and then to check on Jayme. It was clear she needed medical attention. Victor called someone he knows who is a firefighter/EMT, who then called for a rescue squad, since it was clear it was more than overexposure to the sun.

The rescue squad took her to the local clinic. Victor's wife, Lisa, accompanied her, and when Lisa returned without Jayme, I knew it was bad. She told me my friend and caregiver was being transferred to the Medical Center in Panama City.

Jayme was admitted into the ICU with multiple problems. Jayme is a type 1 diabetic, and she had developed diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) due to problems with her blood sugar. She also needed IV antibiotics for an infection. She was very sick and would be in the ICU for the next five days.

After getting the news, I immediately called home to let our families know what was happening. I knew I needed someone who was qualified to care for me. My mom paid for another of my caregivers to fly down to the nearest airport to Rish Park from Milwaukee, which was around 70 miles away. My hero Victor offered to go pick up my caregiver Jessica, who didn’t arrive until after midnight. He wouldn't accept any money for the trip.

As a quadriplegic, I try to be as independent as possible, but there are a lot of things I can't do. I had already asked for so much help, and I didn't want to put anyone else out. I hadn't eaten anything all day, but Victor and Lisa invited me to join them for a meal. Lisa asked me if I liked spaghetti. It was such a wonderful gesture, particularly because I DO like spaghetti. I enjoyed the meal immensely, especially dining with such kind and interesting new friends.

I told Victor that I didn’t know how I could ever repay him and Lisa for everything they had done. His response was something that still makes me emotional writing this; I'll never forget what he said: "Y’all are family now."

After my friend/caregiver Jessica arrived, it was like a huge weight had been lifted from me. Although Jayme was still in the hospital, I could go see her and reassure her that we were going to wait until she got released. Victor informed me that his supervisor had approved a medical extension for us to stay at Rish Park through the weekend and beyond if we needed it. Jayme was released from the hospital after spending five days in the ICU.

We both have so many people to thank. First and foremost would be Victor and Lisa Rowland. Without their kindness and generosity, I'm not sure how this would have turned out. Next on the list are our cabin neighbors Randy and Jackie Abel, along with their family, who checked in on me frequently to make sure I was OK. Of course, I must include my caregiver Jessica, who dropped everything to fly down at a moment's notice to help me, no questions asked. Additionally, I want to thank my mom, who paid the airfare for Jessica, and finally, the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, for providing such a beautiful park and allowing us to extend our stay until my friend was well enough to travel.

It's hard to describe on paper the full range of emotions that I went through. I am so grateful to have crossed paths with someone who exudes altruism to the highest degree, a rarity in many cases today. I know that I will never be able to return the kindness I received from Victor and Lisa, but I will never forget it. A sincerest thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

From left to right: Jayme, Scott, and Jessica.