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Wheels For Warren In The Works

Mel Warren was handed a check for $24,000 toward his much-needed new custom van and electric wheelchair at the September meeting of the East Norwich Civic Association. Still, they are only half-way there to cover the costs. Present at the meeting were members of the Friends of Mel Warren Committee who committed themselves to raise the needed $38,000.

The plan to help Mel, who has chaired the arts and crafts portion of the Oyster Festival for about 30 years, was initiated at a meeting of the Oyster Fest committee of which he is a member. Mel, who contracted polio in 1958, currently has Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS), a painful attack on the body. Coincidentally, the Oyster Festival is a project of the Oyster Bay Rotary Club and Rotary International’s goal is to eradicate polio.

The Friends of Mel Warren committee includes: Matthew Meng, president, East Norwich Civic Association; Nick DeSantis, North Shore Rotary/VFW Post 8033 member/Italian-American Citizens Club/American Legion member; Beverly Zembko, Oyster Festival food court coordinator/OB Rotary past co-president; Judy Wasilchuk, OB Rotary past co-president/Oyster Festival Committee member; and Oyster Bay Rotarians Paul Rosen and Kristin Reardon, Oyster Festival event co-chairs.

Mel, 85, was born in Oyster Bay and has lived in East Norwich for 60 years. He graduated from OBHS in 1945, and enlisted in the Air Force in 1946. He was a mechanic aboard a C45 during 130 missions delivering food and coal to the residents of Berlin, then landlocked inside the Soviet Zone of a Germany, divided after WWII. He returned to work at Ford Motors in Hempstead. He and his wife Rene were roller skating champions. They married in 1951. On Labor Day, 1958 he was diagnosed with polio. [As FDR was in 1921.] After 10 months of convalescence he returned to work as a draftsman and later purchasing agent. After retirement he took up leather crafting and made custom saddles and took part in quality craft shows. His contacts in the craft world were invaluable over the about 30 years, he has taken charge of the arts and craft vendors for the Oyster Festival.

A Van With A Lift

Today, Mel battles Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS). The NINDS explains PPS is a condition that affects polio survivors years after recovery from an initial acute attack of the poliomyelitis virus. PPS makes itself know through progressive muscle weakness, fatigue and muscle atrophy, accompanied by joint pain. That is what has impelled Mel to seek relief in a motorized wheelchair, which necessitated a van with a lift.

With his purchasing agent background, Mel researched what the best van was to purchase. He found that the 2013 Chrysler Town & Country van would cost $32,000. “There was a rebate of between $3,000 and $4,000 if you took delivery before Sept. 30,” he explained, and there were no rebates available from comparable Hondas or Toyotas. The check presented at the ENCA meeting brings him half way toward paying for the equipment, he said, but more is needed. There are a few checks still going through the banking process, which will help, but the funding goal is still to be achieved.

 As a result the offer still stands: You can join in this worthy endeavor by mailing a check to the East Norwich Civic Association, PO Box 126, East Norwich 11732:  Attention: Liane Guenther, treasurer.  Please write ‘Friends of Mel Warren’ in the memo area of your check.  If you have any questions, please call Matthew Meng at 606-8053.

Getting There  

Mel accepted delivery from Florida of the motorized chair, on Monday, Sept. 30. Bussani Mobility came to pick the chair on Tuesday, Oct. 1. They will do the adjustments and fine tuning to make the chair safe and compatible to both Mel and the van.

When finished there will be a ramp that comes out of the passenger side of the car which will have the three seats in the middle and the driver’s seat removed. [If he goes somewhere with valet parking Mel will have a folding chair available.] Mel will roll up the ramp, and into the area where the seats have been removed, so he can glide into the driver’s place where his chair will be secured.

It costs $24,000 for the van conversion. The van will still have three seats in back, plus the front passenger seat and the new driver’s location; it originally could carry seven passengers. All in all, there is a great deal of work and fine tuning that will go into getting the van completed. There were a few delays, the foot pedals didn’t come along with the chair, but Mel is keeping focused, “As long as I get it before Oyster Festival week.” That means he needs it in place by the week of Oct. 14 so that he can be down at Roosevelt Park checking out the layout of the festival: another of Mel’s specialties. He plans the layout for where they will fit everything into Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park.

FYI: The polio vaccine was first introduced in 1955; its use since then has eradicated polio from the United States. As a result of the global effort to eradicate the disease, only three countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan) remain polio-endemic as of February 2012, down from more than 125 in 1988. Results published in 1994-1995 estimated there were about 1 million polio survivors in the U.S., with 443,000 reporting to have had paralytic polio. Work is ongoing to find the best way to fight PPS, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).