Heartfelt donations give challenged youth wheels

By KATRINA M. O’TOOLE Bucks County Courier Times
August 8, 2003

Sixteen-year-old Jamie Tule smiled yesterday as Barry Manilow music played in the background.

Doctors said that he’s in a vegetative state and can’t respond – but his grin says differently. And so does his grandmother, Meredith Tule, his primary caregiver.

If only she could get him out of the house and take him places, she’s sure he would respond and smile that smile that warms her heart.

Up until yesterday, getting him out of the house was the hard part, but thanks to some local Bucks County donors, Jamie and his grandmom could smile more often.

Yesterday, they received a Chevrolet conversion van equipped with a wheelchair lift made for Jamie.

Tule said she wants Jamie to enjoy all the things a regular boy of his age would – a trip to the zoo, a jaunt to the aquarium or just a ride around the neighborhood.

Jamie has been a quadriplegic in a vegetative state since age 4. They declined to go into the details.

Jamie must be transported in a special, oversized wheelchair, which was impossible to fit into the family’s van. Because of that, he could only leave the house for medical appointments and he had to be taken by ambulance.

“He’s been in bed for the last 10 years,” his aunt, also named Meredith Tule, said through tears. “Some doctor visits [at the hospital] have lasted 10 hours because the ambulance has broken down before and some of them had no air conditioning.”

Watching her mother struggle with no suitable transportation for Jamie, Meredith, who lives in Bristol Borough, looked to the community for help. In May, she wrote a letter to the editor describing the hardships her mother faces raising Jamie.

“I am writing on behalf of [my nephew] Jamie and my mother, who has taken care of her grandson since his birth and continues to care for him…” Meredith wrote to the Courier Times.

“My mom wants nothing more than to take Jamie places while she still can. She would like to take him to the zoo or to the Shore, but the vehicle she currently owns makes that near impossible. I am hopeful that someone may know a way for my mom to acquire a van suitable to meet Jamie’s ever-growing needs,” her letter said.

That “someone” was Barry Gross of Stief, Waite, Gross, Sagoskin, a law firm in Newtown Borough.

After reading the letter, Gross was so moved that he immediately approached his partners and suggested the firm help the Tule family.

“My partners didn’t hesitate,” he said.

So, Gross and his partners contacted Joe Maguire, general manager at John Kennedy Ford in Feasterville, to inquire about a van, and Sterling Limousine & Transportation Services and the Sarris Financial Group to ask for donations.

“All these people graciously stepped forward to help,” Gross said.

After the donors informed the family about the van, Gross decided to visit Jamie.

“I was even more moved when I came to visit him. When I met him, I knew nothing was going to stop us from doing this,” he said.

In three months, the donors raised enough money to purchase a 1999 Chevrolet high-top conversion van from John Kennedy Ford. The auto group added the custom-made wheelchair lift.

“And look! There’s a TV inside!” Jamie’s aunt said. “He can watch Barry Manilow!”

“It’s so beautiful,” Grandmom Tule said. “It’s beyond anything I even dreamed of.”

A few minutes after the new van arrived, Jamie’s aunt and grandmother were already planning an activity schedule that would “enrich Jamie’s life.”

“I just want to do normal things that a grandmom should do with her grandson,” Tule said.

“It’s amazing that something wonderful can come through the face of devastation from the kindness of strangers,” Jamie’s aunt said.

“Today was extremely rewarding,” Gross said yesterday. “It really made my day.”