By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — He’s got the van. He’s got the wheelchair lift. Dominick Pacheco is ready to roll.
After a yearslong effort, the disabled 15-year-old boy’s family has succeeded in obtaining a van and making it wheelchair-accessible, thus guaranteeing his future mobility. The $35,000 van and $22,000 in modifications were paid for by donations.
“It’s awesome, it’s unbelievable,” said Laura Pacheco, Dominick’s mother. “We’re just very thankful for everybody’s help and love and support for us to get this van, to give Dominick his freedom.”
Dominick sustained a brain injury at birth and has dealt with numerous medical conditions ever since. He can’t speak, or sit or stand on his own.
Though having the wheelchair-accessible van means Dominick will continue to attend appointments and take part in family outings, it’ll also make things easier for his mother, who has had to lift his 100-odd pounds in and out of a vehicle every time they go anywhere.
“It’s much more comfortable for Dominick as well as for myself,” Pacheco said, adding that while Dominick used to get a kick out of being picked up and put in cars, “it’s not as enjoyable for him as it used to be.”
“He loves going up on the lift,” she said.
Pacheco and her husband, Carlos, bought the Chevrolet Express in Florida shortly after Thanksgiving, then drove it back to Massachusetts. Installation of the wheelchair lift took eight weeks and was done at Ride-Away, a handicapped-equipment company in New Hampshire.
The Pachecos got the van back last Friday and took a maiden voyage of sorts on Monday night , when the whole family — including Dominick, his nurse, Laura, Carlos, and Dominick’s three brothers and two foster brothers — packed into the nine-seater and took a trip to show it off to friends and family.
“We cruised around Salem and Beverly. ... It was great,” Pacheco said. “It holds all nine of us.”
Pacheco said the van also allows Dominick a better view during rides, since he can remain in his wheelchair and upright during trips.
“He can see everything, instead of slouching over in his chair,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco said she’d be using the van to take Dominick to school at the Northshore Education Consortium in Beverly, and to Forest River Park to watch his brothers play baseball once the warmer weather arrives.
The Pachecos courted donors in a number of ways, including the fundraising website Gofundme.com, an event at the Franco-American Club in Beverly last autumn, and letters that went out to 500 local businesses and organizations.
Among the contributions they received were $4,000 from the Stephen R. Baum Foundation; $3,333 from the Weber Foundation of Helping Hands; $3,000 from Northeast Arc; and $850 via an account that Bob Swisher set up at the First Church in Wenham. A great-aunt and uncle of Dominick’s also gave $4,000.
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.