James Harold “Buddy” Carroll is 73 years old and wheelchair-bound. When he lived at home, he depended on his family to push his chair, but those days are gone. Today, Carroll patrols the halls of Rolling Meadows Nursing Home on Curry Road, Waynesburg, with a broad grin from the control seat of his custom-fitted Quantum 600 Power Wheels, bedecked with American flags, stuffed animals and, yes, an iPad.
For Carroll, coming to live at a nursing home that offers therapy and rehabilitation was a chance to finally get to go to school.
“Our mother kept Buddy with her at home for 60 years until she passed away. I remember relatives telling her she should send him away, but she said no,” said Carroll’s sister, Sarah Clutter of West Finley.
Home was Wind Ridge, and 73 years ago Greene County was still a patchwork of one-room schools, and children with cerebral palsy didn’t have the opportunity to attend. But at home, surrounded by a loving family, Carroll got his education one day at a time. As a cheerfully independent young man, he was able to dress himself and was included in family affairs. He was Buddy to everyone he met.
“I remember he always dressed himself in blue jeans and button-down shirts,” niece Kim Ruse of Sycamore said. “And he loved to do puzzles.”
Over the years, Carroll’s finer motor skills became more limited, but his cheerful personality was undiminished. When his mother, Cleo, died, he went to live with his younger brother, Michael Staggers, in Carmichaels.
But on November 13, 2009, Staggers died unexpectedly, and the family was forced to consider doing what Carroll’s mother had refused to do so many years ago – find him a home outside the family circle.
“I went and looked at some nursing homes, but I wasn’t sure which one would be right for Buddy,” said Carroll’s niece, Anita Devenney of West Finley. “So I called Area Agency of Aging, and they faxed me paperwork to meet Buddy’s needs and a list of facilities for us to look at. When we got to Rolling Meadows, something clicked.”
Maybe it was the old upright piano in the community room. Maybe it was the framed photographs of Greene County scenes of barns, haystacks, tractors and animals brightening the hallways. Maybe it was activity director Sharon Jeffries’ smiling face and the smiling faces of the therapists who would become Carroll’s new teachers, coaches and biggest fans in the months to come. Whatever it was, Carroll had found his new home. On Nov. 18, 2009, the family helped him move in.
“The first month he was here, Buddy was kind of quiet, but that’s to be expected. He was so used to being with family,” Jeffries said. “But as he got to know us, he started to open up, and look at him now! He’s a success story. People need to know that just because you’re living in a nursing home, your life isn’t over.”
For Carroll, his new life had just begun.
Within six months, insurance had provided the new electrified wheels and Carroll was in school, taking some serious driver’s training, complete with cones and obstacles, in the parking lot. For three months, he practiced driving through crowded hallways, parking in reverse, pivoting around corners and clearing doorways. Physical therapy gave him back some of the range of motion his muscles had lost to time, and speech therapy brought him new levels of communication that included learning to use the iPad he received in December.
Now, Carroll uses his finger to activate the screen and communicate with the help of an app designed for nonverbal users.
But don’t be surprised if he doesn’t use that finger to pull up some of his favorite tunes.
“I was amazed. I wasn’t expecting him to do so much,” Ruse admitted. “Last year, he came to my son’s graduation and he went everywhere by himself. It was wonderful to see.”
“Buddy’s in his chair eight hours a day checking on the other residents. He’s our social butterfly,” Jeffries said. “He can change the angle of his seat and lay back when he’s tired of sitting up, so he can make himself comfortable throughout the day. He’s very independent, and whatever obstacle he meets, we’re here to help him. With our therapists, there’s no such thing as a small problem.”
Carroll is up to the task of loading himself in the nursing home van, maneuvering his chair better than any staff member, Jeffries said, laughing. “He goes shopping and makes his own purchases, and he loves going on outings, especially the tractor pulls. We have other men here with wheelchairs, and they like to drive around together. He and Hershel Rutan are best friends except when it comes to cheering for the Steelers. Buddy’s a Dallas fan.”