Help urged for Bickhams
Published 9:32 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2015
The families of a burn victim and his wife are raising money to build them home that can accommodate his wheelchair and limited mobility.
Lon Bickham, who grew up in Chuckatuck and graduated from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, suffered burns to about 94 percent of his body in an accident in Emporia on April 7, 2011.
He was one of four men undertaking maintenance on a wood chipper when it exploded. One of the four later died.
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After multiple surgeries, including grafts of cadaver skin, artificial skin and lab-cultured Epicel, Bickham was welcomed home in November 2012.
In the time since that homecoming, along with more surgeries and lots of rehabilitation, Bickham married Raleigh Dowd, the woman who stuck by his side through everything.
The two reportedly met at a wedding where Lon Bickham was the groomsman for his cousin and Raleigh Dowd was the bridesmaid for her sister.
Struck with his counterpart, Lon Bickham told another cousin “he was going to marry that girl,” according to family lore.
According to Lon Bickham’s father, Ed Bickham, the couple has been living inside an apartment above a garage on 20 acres Lon Bickham bought in Southampton County. The apartment was built before the accident.
It’s far from ideal, Ed Bickham said, because his son has to leave his motorized wheelchair downstairs and use a stair lift to scale the 22 stairs.
Inside the apartment, he has to rely on a regular wheelchair — and the constant help of his wife.
“His wife has to be with him 24-7,” Ed Bickham said. “They are just not safe in a two-story garage apartment, with chemicals and fuel underneath.
“His wife has to do everything, and the parents of both have decided to build a one-level ranch-style, ADA-compliant house,” he added, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
With emails sent out and a website and Facebook page established, the families have set an initial goal of raising $250,000.
Plans for the house are still being developed, Ed Bickham said, and he suspects it could end up costing in the range of $400,000 to $450,000.
Money is coming in, he said, but not as quickly as they’d like, with a target of raising the initial amount in 60 to 90 days.
“We are kind of at a beginning stage,” Ed Bickham said. “We are going to get there, one way or another.”
He pointed out that the one-bedroom apartment is too small for someone with Lon Bickham’s level of disability. A larger single-level house would greatly increase his mobility, he said.
“They have a nurse coming in every day for rehabilitation,” Ed Bickham said. “There’s not enough room — this would give them room to spread out.”
Being on the ground level would allow his son to leave the indoors more easily and take his motorized wheelchair outside, he said. “It would give him mobility and the ability to have a little more independence,” he added.
Ed Bickham said his son is making progress — but slowly. He can walk with the aid of two people, he said, adding, “Hopefully he’ll be able to walk in the future.”
“He’s very positive,” Ed Bickham said. “His wife is very positive.”
Lon Bickham has more operations to come, his father said. “We’re trying to get his shoulders freed up, which might help with his walking,” he said.
“He’s a positive influence on other people who’ve had bad things happen to them as to what can be done. He makes the most of things with what he’s got left to do it with.”
To donate, visit www.loveforlonandraleigh.com.