Vickroy: Good friends, close family help Oak Lawn woman turn freak accident into new outlook
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy October 25, 2013 6:38PM
Updated: November 28, 2013 6:41AM
In a split second, Becky Clifford’s life changed forever.
She went from energetic event planner who loved to travel and hang with friends to quadriplegic who may never walk again.
But in the five years since her bizarre accident, Becky has moved beyond wondering why. Why, in that single moment, on that fluke occasion did she stumble while hurrying into her townhouse? Why did she hit the pavement so hard and in just the right way that she broke her neck?
But then, why does anything happen? Since that fateful day in 2008, she has made note of bad cards that have been dealt to others. To friends who’ve gotten life-threatening diagnoses, to people in the news who’ve had devastating encounters with wayward vehicles or muggers. She mentions Rocky Clark, the Eisenhower High School football player who suffered a freak injury, ended up paralyzed and just recently died.
“Things happen,” she said. “Things happen every day. This is life. There are good times and there are bad times. You have to help each other through.”
That stoicism now enables her to filter out the bad and focus on the positive. She has a wonderful family. She has great friends. And, through hard work and therapy, she has regained limited use of her arms.
Plus, she is blessed with many interests. She loves listening to country music and working on her voice-activated computer. She loves Frank Sinatra, Elvis and old movies. Most of the time, though, she can be found reading. Her favorite authors include Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult and Elin Hilderbrand.
“And I’m currently going through ‘Breaking Bad’ withdrawals,” she said.
She is in a good place emotionally right now. But it was a challenge getting there.
“The first couple of years were very difficult,” she said. “I felt like such a burden to everyone.”
But after about a year, she said, it suddenly hit her – how lucky she is to have so many caring people in her life.
Until the accident, Becky worked for 16 years as sales and catering manager for Hilton Hotel in Oak Lawn. It was a job she loved.
“I got so much fulfillment from planning weddings and showers for people,” she said. “To be a part of people’s most important events in their lives was so special.”
If she could regain total use of her arms, she could work again, she said. So she is diligent about keeping up with her therapy and workout regimen.
“She takes good care of herself,” said Jerilyn Alport, her older sister. And that’s important. As is the case with many high level spinal cord injury patients, Becky’s immune system has been forever compromised by her injury, Jerilyn said.
“She will always be at risk for infections, lung and breathing problems and other health issues,” Jerilyn said. “She will need to be closely monitored throughout her life.”
Becky, 43, grew up in Oak Lawn, a stone’s throw from Richards High School.
She went to Kolmar Elementary School, Richards and Moraine Valley Community College.
Blessed with many friends, some of which she’s had since kindergarten, Becky traveled extensively — she’s been to Hawaii, Mexico, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Her world changed on Father’s Day weekend 2008. Her father had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Becky and her sisters, Jerilyn, Michele Shanker and Patricia Clifford, had planned to spend as much of the upcoming summer with him as possible.
It was Friday the 13th in 2008. She’d had dinner at a restaurant with a friend. The friend drove. So afterward Becky was dropped at the front entrance to her townhouse. She typically went in through the garage. No big deal. She had her house keys in one hand, her leftovers in the other when she decided to sprint past the sprinklers.
She simply tripped and ended up lying on the ground until the lawn maintenance crew arrived the next morning,
Becky spent that weekend, and indeed most of that summer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
“That’s the worst part,” she said. “I knew it was his last Father’s Day and I was in the hospital.”
Her father died a few months later on Sept. 11. Soon after, Becky’s mom moved farther east in Oak Lawn to a home that provided privacy for her, for Becky and for Becky’s live-in caregiver.
In March of the following year, Becky’s sisters held a benefit. More than 1,200 people attended the event. Their generosity enabled Becky’s family to buy her a power wheelchair, a motorized exercise bicycle, a computer with specialized software and a wheelchair accessible van. The funds also helped to pay for Becky’s 24-hour caregiver.
Now, the sisters are reprising the event. Jerilyn says it costs upwards of $70,000 a year to pay for Becky’s care. Many things, including her caregiver, aren’t covered by insurance. And Social Security disability is not enough to pay for out-of-pocket medical costs and other day-to-day expenses, she said.
A “Giving Back to Becky” fundraiser will be Nov. 9 at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park.
“Becky has always been a giver,” Jerilyn said. “This is our opportunity to give back.”
The fundraising climate has changed a lot since their first benefit, Jerilyn said. It’s more difficult this time, she said, to get donations from local businesses that can be raffled off as prizes.
“There are so many benefits today,” she said. “Most donors want you to be a 501c-3 (nonprofit) so they can get the tax write-off.”
Still, she said, through hard work and persistence, they have been able to amass a number of .items for a silent auction, including trips and tickets to sporting events. In addition, two local bands, the Opinions and the American Sons will perform during the benefit.
Giving Back to Becky will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at 115 Bourbon Street, 3359 West 115th St., Merrionette Park; (708) 388-8881
For more information on the benefit, visit www.givingback2becky.com/