CHICAGO — When Laura Sickel Baumann got the phone call in 2018, she first knew she needed to get her son back to Chicago.
He’d been injured in an accident in New Orleans. She eventually arranged a flight back to Chicago, where after surgery, he was taken directly to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab to begin rehabilitation.
It was the first of many logistical puzzles in caring for her adult son, who suffered a spinal cord injury. Where would he live? How do they get a wheelchair? And how would he wheel it into their Evanston house? When he was finally home, how could they make their house’s interior meet his new needs?
Families who face a severe injury with life-changing needs, or a family member whose health is deteriorating, often are faced with serious and sudden costs as they confront renovating their homes and adapt to pressing needs.
For Sickel Baumann, this meant adding a ramp to the backyard, and making the first floor of the home a place where her son could live.
They were lucky, said Sickel Baumann — with her experience as a designer and her husband’s as an architect, they were aware of how to make their home accessible, widening door widths, updating bathroom fixtures and changing the height of light switches.
“We know how to draw what needs to happen. We know clearances and all that sort of thing,” she said. “I thought so much about other people, because we were fortunate enough that we could do this on our end, and that we had resources.”
At Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, people arrive after lives change in minutes — a gunshot wound, a car crash, a stroke. When patients are discharged, they often need to approach their home differently. Occupational therapist Kelsey Watters said they first consider locations like the bathroom and the entry.
“Here in Chicago, we have a lot of walk-up units. Sometimes there are stairs before you enter,” Watters said. “Some of those very simple things can often be most challenging.”
Within the home, people consider entire renovations or smaller changes, Watters said, like adding accessible shelving in a kitchen or a tub bench in the shower.