SALEM — For Deb Moy, getting out of her home on Loring Avenue can be an adventure, if not downright dangerous.
Moy, 60, had her left leg amputated in 2018 and now has an artificial leg. This past fall, she fell while trying to navigate the steep incline in her backyard with a walker and broke her right foot. Last winter, she shoveled snow with one hand while leaning on a crutch.
"It's been really difficult," she said.
Moy's life got a bit easier last week when four members of the Friendship Masonic Lodge of Wilmington showed up at her house and installed a 16-foot-long steel ramp. Bernard Nally, one of the Masons, said installing the ramp was easy, taking only an hour-and-a-half.
But to Moy, the gesture has meant the difference between living an active life and being confined to her basement, where she lives because the home is not handicapped-accessible.
"It just meant the world to me," she said. "These guys saved my life."
Moy had her left leg amputated just below the hip after years of problems dating to a fall when she was a 13-year-old girl growing up in Wisconsin. She said she and a friend snuck into a house that was under construction, and she ended up falling through a floor in the attic all the way to the basement.
Moy said her leg has never been right since then. She had a tumor removed from her left knee when she was in her 20s. In 2015, she got an infection after undergoing knee surgery and said she's had more than 20 surgeries since then. Doctors eventually told her, 'You're probably going to lose your leg,'" she said.
Moy underwent the amputation in August 2018 and got her prosthetic leg two months later. She has struggled to adapt to the device, which is made of carbon fiber and includes a microprocessor to help with knee and foot flexion. She sometimes uses a wheelchair, but cannot get the wheelchair out of her house so keeps another one in her car.
Moy, who is divorced and has no children, said friends have offered to help her, but she says she is "stubborn" about accepting assistance.
"It's my pride," she said. "My friends get upset because I just don't want help."
This summer, Moy went to the Hospital Equipment Loan Program in Woburn run by local Masonic lodges to see if she could get a ramp. The program put her in touch with the Friendship Lodge in Wilmington, where members install donated wheelchair ramps for people in need.
Nally, a retired Wilmington police chief, said his lodge usually installs ramps in Wilmington and surrounding communities, so he was a bit surprised when he got an email from someone in Salem.
"Because of the distance I frankly didn't want to go that far, but her story was appealing to me so I decided we'd go over," Nally said. "We're all volunteers and we're in our 70s and 80s and we've kind of established limits as to where we go. But situations come up like that and you say, 'Hey, we can't refuse this.' Commercial ramps are very expensive, so we try to help people out."
Nally and three other Masons showed up at Moy's house on Veterans Day and installed the ramp, which he described as a "big Erector Set."
Nally said the work is very satisfying. He recalled doing a project for a man in Wilmington who only left his house to go to the doctor. As soon as the ramp was ready, the man went down to the post office to get his mail.
"He said, 'I haven't done this in years,'" Nally said.
Moy, who lives with her Great Dane, Rosie, said the ramp has already made a big difference, whether she is using a wheelchair or walking. She works part-time as a crisis clinician for a mental health agency in Lynn, visiting people in hospitals to evaluate what services they need. She is also a substitute teacher at Salem High School.
"The kids at Salem High School are incredible," she said. "They see beyond disability. I've learned a lot from them."
Moy said she was surprised at how quickly the crew from the Wilmington lodge responded to her request. She said she didn't know how to thank them, so she bought them a cake.
"This ramp is going to save me a lot of falls," she said. "It's a lifesaver."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.