Paralyzed New Kensington Navy veteran receives van from Virginia charity | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

Paralyzed New Kensington Navy veteran receives van from Virginia charity

Madasyn Czebiniak
1477002_web1_vnd-hikavan04-080319
Madasyn Czebiniak | Tribune-Review
Navy veteran Dan Hika, 51, of New Kensington checks out his new wheelchair accessible van that was presented to him by Azalea Charities, a Prince William County, Va.-based nonprofit that raises money to support wounded veterans and their families. Hika received the van on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019.
1477002_web1_vnd-hikavan-080319
Madasyn Czebiniak | Tribune-Review
Navy veteran Dan Hika, 51, of New Kensington checks out his new wheelchair accessible van that was presented to him by Azalea Charities, a Prince William County, Va.-based nonprofit that raises money to support wounded veterans and their families. Hika received the van on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019.
1477002_web1_vnd-hikavan001-080319
Madasyn Czebiniak | Tribune-Review
Navy veteran Dan Hika, 51, of New Kensington checks out his new wheelchair accessible van that was presented to him by Azalea Charities, a Prince William County, Va.-based nonprofit that raises money to support wounded veterans and their families. Hika received the van on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019.

Dan Hika, a Navy veteran paralyzed in a swimming pool accident seven years ago, feels free.

And he owes it to Frank Lasch and Azalea Charities, which raised enough money to buy Hika and his family a minivan that will allow him to get to and from places without having to get out of his wheelchair.

“I’m totally free,” Hika said Friday when the van was delivered. “Now, if I have to go to a doctor’s appointment, I’m not sitting, waiting on a ride to get home. I just love it. It’s amazing.”

Hika, 51, became paralyzed from the chest down when he dove into an above-ground swimming pool behind his family’s New Kensington home in 2012. He uses an electric wheelchair to get around.

Lasch is the founder and chairman of Azalea Charities, a Prince William County, Va.-based nonprofit that raises money to support wounded veterans and their families.

When Lasch heard the family needed help getting Hika to and from his medical appointments in Cleveland — as well as around in general — his charity started raising money to buy the van, which he presented to the Hikas on Friday.

“We hope it will make a difference,” Lasch said.

Before, when the family would go anywhere, they would have to physically pick up Hika from his wheelchair and put him in their cars. They don’t have to worry about that anymore.

“It’s hard picking me up and putting me in the car cause you’re lifting dead weight,” Hika said.

The van modifications were paid for by the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. It’s outfitted with a ramp, a lowered floor and a wider door frame.

Hika can drive his wheelchair up into the backseat. The backseat is completely open and has plenty of room for him and his wheelchair. There is a bench farther back for additional passengers.

Both the front passenger and drivers seats are removable, meaning Hika can ride shotgun — or even drive in his wheelchair.

Hika could be driving again very soon.

His wife, Cheryl Hika, said the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center will train her husband to use a special adapter that fits across a steering wheel. The adapter has a knob about the size of a golf ball to control the steering, acceleration and brakes.

Once Hika undergoes that training, he will be able to drive the van on his own.

“Hopefully, it will be a morale booster that he doesn’t have to rely on one of us,” said Cheryl Hika, 51. “It’s a hard life. I wouldn’t want it for anyone.”

This isn’t the first time Azalea Charities has helped the Hikas, who live in a two-story house on Freeport Road with their three children.

After the accident, the family turned their dining room into Dan Hika’s bedroom because he couldn’t get upstairs. But because the dining room and living room are connected, Hika had no privacy from the rest of the people in the house.

The charity last year converted the Hikas’ porch into a bedroom for him, complete with heating and air conditioning and a mounted television.

“We were able to bring a contractor in and create a bedroom for him by renovating his porch,” Lasch said. “We’re happy in this situation to be able to reach out to our veteran here in New Kensington.”

Dan and Cheryl were completely moved.

“I really appreciate it,” Dan Hika said, “from the bottom of my heart.”

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, [email protected] or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.