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Originally published December 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 22, 2006 at 12:29 AM

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Helping hands give Kenmore mother a lift

Five to seven times a day, Lydia Voss carried her 40-pound, 5-year-old son up the steps to her Kenmore home. Voss, 33, was too busy caring...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Five to seven times a day, Lydia Voss carried her 40-pound, 5-year-old son up the steps to her Kenmore home.

Voss, 33, was too busy caring for Lukas, who is undergoing chemotherapy for tiny tumors that dot the outside of his brain. She didn't have time to think about a wheelchair ramp.

And being a single mom living on a teacher's salary means that every bit of her paycheck is spoken for, anyway.

But friends and co-workers saw the need. They raised about $500 and volunteered their time this week to build Lukas a wheelchair ramp to the front door of his home.

A construction company in Everett, BMC West, heard about the effort, donated the materials and told the group to use the $500 to give Voss and her two sons, Lukas and Benson, 3, a nice Christmas.

A wooden ramp now zigzags from Voss' gravel driveway to her front door, thanks to the work of more than a dozen volunteers.

Most of the volunteers came from Crystal Springs Elementary School, where Voss is a reading specialist, and from Sorenson Early Childhood Center, a preschool for children with special needs that Lukas attends.

Jerry Otis, who runs Regional Access Mobility Program (RAMP), which builds wheelchair ramps for people in need, led the project. Otis, who uses crutches, often builds the ramps for the cost of materials.

"The mission is to give people access to their own homes," Otis said. "As soon as we finish this job, I'm going ... to Tacoma for a person who needs a ramp there. I've got 14 file folders with people's names on it that need or want a ramp."

Voss hopes the ramp will give Lukas more independence and one day allow him to wheel himself up the ramp, or once he regains his strength, enable him to use crutches to walk.

Before the ramp was installed, Voss carried Lukas up the six steps into the house, leaving the wheelchair in the car because she couldn't get it up the stairs, she said.

"My big goal is to make my kids' life the best life it can be," she said. "For Lukas, I don't want it to be all about his disadvantages. I want him to be as independent as he can be."

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The problems started when Lukas was 22 months, and he started falling and tripping.

Voss became concerned and took him to the doctor. A series of medical tests, MRI and CT scans revealed the toddler had a tumor growing along the length of his spine.

Surgeons performed several operations when he was 2 and 3 that removed most of the tumor, which had wrapped around his spinal cord.

The surgeries, along with pressure from the tumor on his spine, caused nerve damage and left him with limited control of his legs.

In September 2005, Lukas began hitting, screaming and having mood swings, a change from the sweet, mild-mannered boy he had been, Voss said.

Her bright son who could count and knew his ABCs suddenly started regressing.

She and her husband were going through a divorce, and she thought her son's behavior might be related to changes in the family.

After a few months, she took Lukas for more medical tests, which showed that the tumor cells were moving in the spinal fluid collecting around the frontal lobe of his brain. Some of the cells had begun to cluster into tiny tumors dotting the outside of his brain.

Lukas is undergoing chemotherapy; so far the tumors haven't shrunk but they haven't grown, either, Voss said.

Because there are hundreds of the tumors, doctors believe surgery isn't an option, she said.

"The doctors call him unique because nothing goes the way it's supposed to with him," Voss said. "I've been depressed. It's been really hard. But I realize you can't control what life throws at you, but you can control how you deal with it."

As she talked, Lukas scooted across the floor, using his arms to pull himself forward to get his toys or to play with his younger brother.

During construction of the ramp this past week, some volunteers brought food — containers of deli salads, fried chicken and bagels, so those working could eat lunch and continue working.

Since schools are on winter break, some volunteers brought their children and others took turns watching the kids, while outside, the ramp began to take shape.

Bret Herholdt, a third-grade teacher at Crystal Springs, helped hoist 2-by-6-inch pieces of wood for the ramp's frame. A rail and deck would complete the project, he said.

The project was timed for the holidays, but that's not the only reason the group decided to install the ramp, he said. Those who know Voss, who has primary custody of her two boys, try to help her any way they can, although she is often reluctant to ask, Herholdt said.

Volunteers wanted to install a ramp last year, but she was in a rented house, said Mary Springer, family advocate at Sorenson Early Childhood Center, who helped coordinate the effort.

This year, after Voss bought a home, the group could build the ramp without getting permission from a landlord, Springer said.

"I think having a ramp will make life a little easier for her," she said. "She'll just be able to pop Lukas in the wheelchair and wheel him into the house."

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

Footnotes

For more information about Lukas or to e-mail Lydia Voss:

lukasvoss.com

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