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GAIL WHITE In a wave, Carrington South residents go surfing



Published: Wed, May 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The legs may stiffen and the arms grow weak, but when it comes to computers, you're never too old to surf.

The residents at Carrington South Rehabilitation Health Care Center wanted a computer. The administration at Carrington decided they should have one.

"We thought we would try it and see what the response was," says Bill George, director of marketing for The VanSickle Corp., owners of Carrington South, located on Midlothian Boulevard on the city's South Side.

The company bought one computer, specifically designed for the residents. The computer tech station, however, is set up to accommodate many more computer work stations should the need arise.

Pretty popular

Considering the responses of many of the residents, more stations may be needed soon.

While many of the residents are learning simple computer skills taught by the facility staff, a handful of residents have ventured onto the World Wide Web.

Illness and age have restricted these Carrington South residents from traveling and visiting as they used to. Sitting in the computer station, surfing the Web, they have traveled the globe.

Unlike most of their younger surfing counterparts who wander aimlessly across the Internet, these surfers have purpose and reason behind every click of the mouse.

James Pickens spends hours online researching his genealogy.

"I'm looking for my father," James shares. His surfing has narrowed his search to Atlanta. He is learning how to access public records online.

Gretchen Crater, activities director at Carrington, trains and helps the residents on the computer. She acknowledges that much of the technology also is new to her.

"I only know so much," she said, laughing. Some of the residents are surpassing her knowledge. They work together, using their combined skills to find the information they need. (I suggested they bring a 10-year-old in to teach them.)

A younger surfer

Breen Mitchell is another Carrington South surfer.

At 44, Breen is one of the facility's youngest residents.

"I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on my 36th birthday," he says.

MS has taken Breen's ability to walk and has slowed his speech, but it has not taken away his ability to surf.

"I'm doing research about my illness," Breen explains. He has found new treatment ideas on the Web.

Juan Davila is also using the Internet for research. Juan suffers from a spinal injury. He is scheduled for his second major surgery.

"I'm researching for an alternative way," he says. "They tell me the surgery could leave me paralyzed."

Juan hopes his surfing will lead him to answers that will enable him to walk.

Reaching out

Mike Muscatello is another Carrington South computer surfer. Mike is not researching or investigating, however. His surfing is more a matter of the heart.

In his hand, he holds the picture of a beautiful little girl, 8 years old with long blond hair pulled up in pigtails with red ribbons. Her smile lights up her face along with the sparkle in her Irish eyes.

Last Christmas, Mike drew 180 Christmas cards for children in Ireland, caught in the battle between Catholics and Protestants.

Behind the little girl's smile, there is fear, because walking to school could cost her life.

Mike knows this because under the picture he is holding are a dozen letters from the pigtailed 8-year-old. The two have been corresponding since Christmas.

Now, with the computer at Carrington South, Mike doesn't have to wait for the mail to find out how his scared little friend is doing. He simply goes surfing.

Ambitious project

The residents are busy collecting pop cans to recycle. They hope to buy adaptive equipment for the computer so more residents will enjoy the experience of surfing.

"We're having trouble with one of our residents," Juan warns me. "Wally doesn't want to get on the computer."

The group nods in agreement. Wally, the residents' pet cat, purrs his response.

gwhite@vindy.com




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