A group of strangers touched by the story of two paralyzed brothers has provided them a life-changing piece of equipment.
Matthew and Adam Chaffee, brothers and best friends who were paralyzed in two separate accidents, picked up a customized minivan Monday, an $80,000 donation they received from strangers who heard about their story and wanted to help.
The brothers wheeled into their new, 2016 Toyota Sienna SE at Clock Mobility in Grand Rapids Monday afternoon, among about two dozen people who had worked to raise the money for the brothers or who helped outfit the van.
“It’s really nice,” Adam Chaffee, 24, said. “I didn’t have anything before so, yeah, this is really nice.”
It was the latest chapter of community support for Matt, 26, and Adam, 24, who also have been the recipients of a generous GoFundMe campaign, which has funded medical bills and some living expenses.
“What everybody has done and what everybody has given is just amazing,” said the Chaffee brothers’ mother, Carol Chaffee. “It is just wonderful what people have done for them.”
Matt, 26, became a paraplegic after a November 2014 motorcycle crash. Adam had been living with and taking care of his brother at Adam’s house in Kalamazoo when he was injured in a life-altering lake accident in July 2015.
Now a quadriplegic, Adam has been relying on others with wheelchair accessible vans for transportation. He generally would travel in his motorized wheelchair anywhere within walking distance of their apartment, but would depend on others to travel longer distances.
The brothers have been living in a downtown Grand Rapids apartment for about 11 months. The brothers both use wheelchairs but until Monday, had no transportation to use together.
Two groups of strangers who heard the brothers’ story felt compelled to help and started a public campaign to raise funds for the $80,000 van. They worked with Clock Mobility, a Grand Rapids-based company that specializes in handicapped-accessible vans, to outfit the van for the brothers’ needs.
Michael, a Grand Rapids- area man who has requested anonymity, worked with his wife Christie to raise the funds after reading an article about the brothers. They eventually teamed up with Bob Bytwerk, a retired business owner in Grand Haven, who started raising money with his retired friends who meet for lunch weekly. Pastors of the Jordan Rivers Church, Carol Chaffee’s church, also joined in on the fundraising efforts.
“I am not a great philanthropist, but when I read about them and saw the pictures, I just thought that this was probably the most important cause that I would ever be part of,” Bytwerk has said.
“I feel that way about it,” Bytwerk said. “It’s the best thing that I’ve ever been part of.”
Matt Chaffee said because of the way both men were injured – him in a motorcycle crash while living in Tennessee and Adam in the swimming accident – meant their insurance doesn’t cover the van.
Their van is entirely customized, with a lowered floor and more head room so they can drive in their wheelchairs using a power ramp or a fifth wheel Adam’s chair clicks into. It’s equipped with hand controls for Matt to drive.
Matt Chaffee said he and his brother spent the afternoon after getting the van just “driving around,” including stopping at a local mall. He said he and his brother like “just the fact we can actually go places together.”
The brothers have a few trips planned, including visiting Adam’s friends and former co-workers in Kalamazoo, and driving up north to Vanderbilt, Mich., to visit their mother.
“We really like it,” Matt Chaffee said of the van.