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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008 11:22 am

Sticking together through trouble, this family needs more help

The right volunteer could make a dream come true

Jonathon, Nicholas and Nellieann Kotty, and Pat Dansby, front right, standing on the steps that once led to their home.

Nearly 13 years ago, Pat Dansby purchased the home across from her own on Lincoln Street in Athens.

She asked her daughter, Nellieann Kotty, to move with her two young sons into the home, because there was something about Nellieann’s movement that worried her. Dansby, an employee with the Illinois National Guard, had noticed that her boss began bumping into his desk and falling. When he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Dansby says, it was like “a light bulb went off.”

“This terrible feeling came over me that Nellieann had MS,” Dansby says. “I called her and said, ‘Nellieann, I want you to call the doctor and make an appointment.”

Kotty’s doctor diagnosed her with Relapsing-Remitting MS, a form of the disorder where patients experience a series of attacks on the central nervous system followed by partial or complete recovery periods. For Kotty, this meant trouble balancing and speaking, among other debilitating symptoms, as well as $500 monthly payments for medicine not covered by her insurance.

For the past few years, Kotty did OK. She found a two-month old chocolate Labrador retriever, named her Velvet, and trained and certified her to be a personal service dog. She continued to work as an office coordinator for Illinois Child Support Enforcement, a division within the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, but frequently took medical leave — time off without pay. When Kotty was off for several weeks, Dansby stepped in to help pay her bills and medical costs.

On June 14, the family suffered another blow.

Kotty came home from Edwardsville, where her 13-year-old son Nicholas had run in a 10K race, and the pair went across the street to visit with Dansby. Just 10 minutes later, Kotty says, their neighbor was pounding on the door, yelling that Kotty’s garage was on fire. The house, separated from the garage by only four feet, was also soon engulfed in flames.

Jonathon, Nicholas and Nellieann Kotty, and Pat Dansby, front right, standing on the steps that once led to their home.

The fire — which appears to have ignited from a brand-new electric-start push mower, Dansby says — destroyed nearly everything, including five generations of antiques.

“Our whole life history went up in flames,” she says. “And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Dansby, now a 71-year-old retiree who took her mother in after an accident, also moved her daughter and grandsons into her two-bedroom home. Sixteen-year-old Jonathon sleeps on the living room couch, while Nicholas sleeps on a fishing cot in the kitchen.

“It’s stressful anytime you have teenagers,” Kotty says. “When you get them in close quarters, it’s even worse. It’s a tiny house with a lot of people and a lot of things.”

Dansby’s insurance company told her she’d receive $49,000 for the destroyed home, even though she insured it for $69,000 and had since added a bedroom, installed a new roof, and done some rewiring. She still owed $29,000 to the bank, leaving $20,000 to build a new home.

Athens United Methodist Church helped the family, donating clothing and opening up a savings account for them at a local bank.

“Considering their need, I think what we’ve done really is just a drop in the bucket,” the Rev. Gloria Davis says.

Terry Beauchamp, a visiting nurse from Memorial Medical Center who frequently checked in on Dansby’s mother (she died July 11), also rallied Ashland First Baptist Church. Since they knew Dansby couldn’t afford it, Beauchamp says, the men’s group volunteered to tear the house down.

“We live in Ashland, realistically, we had no tie,” Beauchamp says. “It’s not like we were trying to reach new members for our church. It was just a matter of these people needing help and weren’t able to help themselves.”

Others reached out, including Nicholas’ football team from Athens Junior High School, filling three dumpsters in an hour-and-a-half.

The next step, Dansby says, is building a house for her daughter and grandsons. She’s not asking for money, she adds. Between insurance and uncashed bonds, she can buy the cheapest prefabricated house at Menard’s. She just needs volunteers to put it up.

Davis has consulted with a local retired contractor about Dansby’s situation and says what’s really needed is someone to take charge.

“Somebody who would know how to do it and how to mobilize any volunteers,” she says. “Community-wide, perhaps that would be possible to pull together.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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