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Community turns out to support paralyzed New Ken man

| Monday, April 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Cheryl Hika (right) greets Kim Taylor of Cecil during a benefit spaghetti dinner Sunday. April 21, 2013, at the United Presbyterian Church in New Kensington for Dan Hika, Cheryl’s husband who was paralyzed from the chest down in June when he suffered a spinal injury after diving into the family’s above-ground backyard pool. Kim’s 25-year-old son Matt suffered similar injuries six months prior to Dan, when he dove into the ocean during a Maryland vacation. Through Matt’s persistence in contacting Dan, the families have grown close during Dan’s therapy.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Ginger Howard (left) and her daughter Brooke of New Kensington look at silent auction items during a benefit spaghetti dinner at the United Presbyterian Church in New Kensington for Dan Hika, who was paralyzed from the chest down in June 2012 when he suffered a spinal injury after diving into the family's above-ground backyard swimming pool. Sunday April 21, 2013
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
The Hika children, D.J (left), Michael and Ashley wait on Brian and Jamie Jacob of WESTARM Therapy & Homecare at a benefit spaghetti dinner Sunday, April 21, 2013, at the United Presbyterian Church in New Kensington. The Jacobs have helped provide transportation for Dan Hika who was paralyzed from the chest down in June when he suffered a spinal injury after diving into the family’s above-ground backyard swimming pool.
Dan Hika, 44, of New Kensington in his hospital room at Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. He was paralyzed from the chest down in a swimming pool accident June 18, 2012. Photo courtesy of the Hika family.

Cheryl Hika wants her husband's life to be as normal as possible when he finally comes home from the hospital.

That means extensive renovations to make their New Kensington home's kitchen and bathroom handicapped accessible, and possibly — if the funding comes through — an elevator, so her husband can sleep in the upstairs bedroom.

Dan Hika, 44, was paralyzed from the chest down in June when he suffered a spinal injury after diving into the family's above-ground, backyard swimming pool.

A benefit spaghetti dinner was held Sunday at the United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington. It included basket raffles and baked goods sales.

Hika's children, Michael, 8; Ashley, 14; and D.J., 13, and family friends served as waitstaff.

“I really want Mr. Hika to get better, and I know they're probably struggling with money with all the medications and therapy,” said Makayla Murphy, 9, of New Kensington. “I just really want to help.”

Cheryl Hika said the community's outpouring of support has been incredible.

“It's been amazing,” she said. “Totally awesome.”

Dan Hika has been hospitalized since October at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center to receive treatment for a severe ulcer so deep that it exposed his tailbone, said Cheryl Hika.

The wound has healed to about the size of a dime, but it has to be fully closed before he can begin physical therapy.

“We're at a standstill because of that,” Cheryl Hika said Sunday.

Dan Hika's release date has been pushed back several times, but he hopes to return to the area during the summer.

He has limited movement in his upper extremities and diminished fine motor skills in his hands.

Doctors are doing electroshock therapy on his hands and plan to perform a procedure to open his fingers, which are clenched in a C-shape, Cheryl Hika said.

Habitat for Humanity will be renovating the Hikas' kitchen.

“The kitchen is such a tight space, and there's no way he could maneuver,” Cheryl Hika said. “I want him to have a roll-under sink so he can do things like wash off a dish, and then I want a counter he could roll under so that if he ever gains back more (movement) than he has now he can prepare something.”

She said she was going to get a stair lift, but Hika's doctors say he doesn't have the upper body to use one.

Hika said a Habitat representative suggested an elevator, which would cost an estimated $27,000.

“The way the set-up is downstairs there's no privacy and it won't be normal,” Hika said. “With an elevator, he can just push the button and he can do it himself. He can be as independent and as close to normal as what he can be.”

Brian and Jamie Jacob of Lower Burrell, who own WESTARM Therapy and Homecare, attended Sunday's benefit dinner. The company donated a basket for the raffle, and the Jacobs have been a source of encouragement for her husband, Cheryl Hika said.

“When I heard about his injury, I could relate to what he's going through right now,” said Brian Jacob, 54, who was paralyzed in a wrestling accident at age 19 and is in a wheelchair. “It's a tough transition”

Jamie Jacob, 49, said it's important for the Hikas to see that life does get better. She said it's wonderful to see the community support the family has received.

“You're giving them a chance to not worry about this bill coming in and being able to get a ramp to the house,” she said.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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