When you’re a teenager, your bicycle equals freedom. Independence. Fun. And it helps you get out your extra energy.
BAYADA Pediatrics client Dominic, 15, his family, and his nurse, Mat Gunkel, RN understand this all too well.
About five years ago, Mat decided to switch from working with adults in a hospital cardiology unit to working full-time for BAYADA Pediatrics, a specialty practice of BAYADA Home Health Care. “It was the best move I ever made,” Mat says, “It’s changed my life. I’m so blessed.”
His first client was Dominic (then 9 years old), who had been born prematurely and lives with multiple disabilities—including spastic cerebral palsy and epilepsy—and physical and developmental challenges such as spastic quadriplegia and a very limited verbal vocabulary. Mat has been working with Dominic as his primary afternoon nurse ever since.
“Dominic’s family is very warm and inviting, and his smile and personality are so magnetic, it’s like he compels you to do great things,” Mat says.
As Dominic has grown from a boy to a teenager, Mat has been there with his family through all the transitions. Some changes have been setbacks, like a new Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and some have been milestone successes that resulted from long periods of work—like learning how to purposely and independently use the television remote and iPad, and learning how to ride an adaptive bike.
Another big transition has been Dominic’s physical growth from a boy to a teenager. In recent years, he outgrew all of his adaptive equipment. While insurance allowed the family to get a new, bigger bolster seat, stander, and wheelchair, it wouldn’t cover a new bike, deeming it “unnecessary.”
Well, as we all know, a bike is a necessity for any teenager. Especially for Dominic, whose mobility is limited to an army crawl without assistive devices, his bicycle had been his main source of exercise. Before he outgrew his little bike, Dominic used to be outside riding every day after school, sometimes for hours. “We’d be out there in 100 degrees, in the rain,” Mat recalls with a laugh, “We’d just crank up the music and he’d fire off some steam. The only thing that would stop us would be thunder and lightning.”
In their friendly community, tooling around on his bicycle also is a great way for Dominic to interact with neighbors, getting a wave and a honk from passersby. “He loves it,” says Dominic’s mom Joanne Stratton, “You should see him on his bike. He just starts giggling and laughing. He’s a different kid when he’s on his bike.”
Going the extra mile
Dominic’s parents researched a new “forever” bicycle that would last into adulthood and priced it at $4,800. Because that was prohibitive combined with his other health care costs, Dominic went without a bicycle for about ten months. As Dominic became more sedentary, Mat noticed that his leg muscles were atrophying (degenerating from lack of use) and his mood was suffering. Mat and Dominic’s family knew that cardiovascular exercise was so important to Dominic’s health and quality of life. So Mat decided to take matters into his own hands and find a way to make that new happen.
Mat created a GoFundMe page to raise money for Dominic’s new bicycle, and Dominic’s family and friends immediately got it up and running. Together, they asked everyone they knew to give what they could and to share the GoFundMe campaign on social media. Mat contacted local businesses and the local news. He inspired a local physical therapy company and the Elks Club to organize fundraising events and solicit donations. Many, many people in the community pitched in what they could, and in the end, Mat’s own brother contributed the final $100 that met their goal and allowed them to buy a new bike and adaptive gloves. The shiny new “forever” bike arrived in early .
Today, Dominic is doing great and keeping busy. In the daytime, he goes to school accompanied by another nurse on his BAYADA care team, and he plays soccer and goes horseback riding with his parents. In the afternoons and evenings, you just may spy him outside, happily learning to use his new bike with Mat’s help.
“I am so happy I was able to help Dominic’s family get over this hurdle. The Strattons are so active, they inspire me to get out there and do things myself,” Mat says, “They’ve taught me there are no excuses. Just do it.”
“I feel so lucky to have found this job. Each of my clients and their families has blown me away, and the people in my office are phenomenal. Our office has such a special culture: caring and helpful, always with a smile. These are the intangibles that make BAYADA a great place to work,” says Mat.
“For so many people out there, work is a grind. I had a grind my whole life! And now I feel like I do work I’d do even if I weren’t paid, as a volunteer,” Mat says, “I wake up every day feeling like I’m appreciated for making a difference. I love it.”
BAYADA Pediatrics provides care at home for children with complex medical needs from birth to adolescence.