PORTLAND, Ore. -- It was almost a year ago, March 30, 2016, when 37-year-old Brian Duncan was riding his bicycle home from Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland.
The trip is about three blocks. When he got to the intersection of Rosa Parks Way and Delaware Avenue, his life changed forever.
“It's just one of those instances where you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, got hit by a gentleman who ran a red light," Duncan said.
Duncan was hit by an 84-year-old driver who ran a red light through the intersection. The impact paralyzed him and nearly killed him.
“That momentary lapse in awareness can change a life in an instant," he said.
Cycling was a huge part of Duncan's life. It always had been. The devoted husband and father says he actually used his bike to court his wife when they were dating.
“Our second date was a 60-mile bike ride, it put her to the test," Duncan said.
After the crash, Brian spent the next nine months in rehab and physical therapy. He is now confined to a wheelchair. And he knew he had to start over.
“Being in a chair and being paralyzed, how to start, sort of reintegrating myself into daily life and figuring out how to be a father, how to be a husband again,” he said.
It’s a reality Duncan never imagined, but now it was staring him right in the face. And when he finally returned home, nearly nine months after the crash, he immediately knew life in a wheelchair would be nearly impossible in the small, two-story home he’d bought and renovated with his wife. It was their dream home and they had talked about living there forever. But not anymore.
Duncan’s medical bills were in the millions of dollars. His new expenses include 24-hour care and ongoing treatment and physical therapy. His options for a new home, which would need to be retrofitted, were slim. Or, so he thought.
Duncan’s friend, Corey Omey, is a neighbor in their tight-knit neighborhood. He too, is a cyclist. But Omey is also an architect with the Portland firm, Ernest R. Munch Architecture.
“When I heard about the crash, it hit me. It hit me hard,” Omey said.
And that’s when Omey put the wheels back in motion. A one-story ranch home hit the market and the Duncans scraped together enough money to make an offer. It was just two blocks from their current home. Duncan said that was an important factor.
“My daughter can still play with her friends and we still have our friends close by,” he said.
Omey heard of the new home, and immediately got on the phone.
“It was the first time I ever had a call about a project where I said 'yes, I'll do this, without ever looking at it.'”
With Omey’s lead, Duncan’s friends quickly started to rally. Materials were made from companies that had never met Duncan. Construction crews started showing up at the home, after looking at a design that would help Duncan and his family transition into their new life. And donations started coming in from friends, neighbors and Portlanders who wanted to help.
Suddenly, major renovations to accommodate Duncan’s wheelchair were taking shape. Floors were re-done. Hallways were widened. Facilities were remodeled. And a track to help Brian get from his room, to his bed, to the facilities and the shower was professionally installed.
Peter Bogart, of Birdsmouth Construction said the work was rewarding.
“Within three weeks we had it developed enough to get started and broke ground and went for it.”
Omey said he was not surprised by the communities generosity.
“I went to our lighting consultant who's a bike racer, our structural consultant who used to race bikes as well, and said 'hey, this is something I want to give to, this is something I want to do, we're doing this project, will you help?'"
The answer was an overwhelming yes. And the project to give Brian and his family a house that they could call a home quickly came together. It was described as a labor of love.
“The fact that we're actually doing a project that needs to happen, everyone’s really, really psyched to pitch in,” echoed Bogart. “Making sure it’s something we're proud of at the end.”
The end is now the beginning of the rest of Duncan’s life. It’s work that will help Duncan get around his home, but more importantly, it may help his outlook too.
“I've been fortunate. Not everybody's as fortunate as I am, to have a good support network with family that's been tremendous, and the neighborhood and friends all here in Portland.” Duncan said.
One of his projects going forward will be to support the nonprofit group Portland ReFIT. It’s a group whose mission is to help people struggling with illness, injury, disability or aging to live independently at home.
If you’d like to help, Duncan’s journey can be followed here.
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