Greenfield

Lives in transition

Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation:   Teacher and student prepare for move to Lexington, Mass.

  • Donna McKernan shares a smile with Krista Lucas, the student she's worked with for nine years at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.

    Donna McKernan shares a smile with Krista Lucas, the student she's worked with for nine years at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center. Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.

  • Krista Lucas prepared to take a photo using a camera attached to her computer.

    Krista Lucas prepared to take a photo using a camera attached to her computer.

  • Krisen Lucas and her father, Devin Lucas, at a dance at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.

    Krisen Lucas and her father, Devin Lucas, at a dance at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.

  • Donna McKernan helps Krista Lucas in the pool at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.

    Donna McKernan helps Krista Lucas in the pool at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center. Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.

  • Krista Lucas works on her communication skills as her teaching assistant and friend, Donna McKernan, looks on.

    Krista Lucas works on her communication skills as her teaching assistant and friend, Donna McKernan, looks on.

  • Donna McKernan shares a smile with Krista Lucas, the student she's worked with for nine years at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.

    Donna McKernan shares a smile with Krista Lucas, the student she's worked with for nine years at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center. Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.

  • Donna McKernan shares a smile with Krista Lucas, the student she's worked with for nine years at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.
  • Krista Lucas prepared to take a photo using a camera attached to her computer.
  • Krisen Lucas and her father, Devin Lucas, at a dance at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.
  • Donna McKernan helps Krista Lucas in the pool at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.
  • Krista Lucas works on her communication skills as her teaching assistant and friend, Donna McKernan, looks on.
  • Donna McKernan shares a smile with Krista Lucas, the student she's worked with for nine years at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  Krista, who turned 22 last week, will be leaving Crotched Mountain to live in her hometown, Lexington, Mass., and Donna will be living with her during the week to help with the transition.

Donna McKernan and Krista Lucas met about nine years ago, when Krista, who has cerebral palsy, came to live at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield. Donna had recently been hired as a teacher’s assistant and paraprofessional, and although she worked with a different student the first year Krista was at the mountain, she and Krista soon made a connection. Donna eventually became the chief caregiver during the day for Krista, who is nonverbal and uses a wheelchair. Over the years, Donna spent hours with Krista, in her residence and her classrooms, taking her to therapy sessions and helping her learn ways to communicate. And now, as Krista, 22, is no longer eligible for funding that would allow her to remain at Crotched Mountain, Donna plans to give up her job there in order to continue working with Krista at her home in Massachusetts.

“She’ll be moving into the home she grew up in,” Donna said last week, on one of Krista’s last days in Greenfield. “They are fixing up the house right now, putting in ramps, adapting a bathroom. They’re putting in a lift in the bedroom to help with transfers from the wheelchair to the bed or another chair.”

The house, in Lexington, Mass., was left in Krista’s name after her mother died of cancer a few years ago, Donna said. Donna will be staying there during the week, returning to her home in Peterborough on weekends, when Krista’s father, Devin Lucas, and her stepmother, Mimi Lucas, will be responsible for her care.

Asked why she plans to make such a major change in her own life, Donna said she and Krista have become close friends and she really wants to help with this huge transition.

“I’ve worked with her for so long,” Donna said. “Consistency is going to be the best thing for her. It would be so much more difficult for me if I didn’t follow through with her.”

Donna and Krista have an established routine at Crotched Mountain.

“Krista needs assistance in just about everything, although she’s made amazing progress,” Donna said. “I get there at 6:50 every morning to help her get up and get dressed. I’m with her throughout the day. She has physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. She takes art, music and dance classes. She loves people, every day she’ll raise her hands to say hello to everyone going by. She’s a real social butterfly.”

Judy Beckman of Antrim, a classroom teacher at Crotched Mountain, said Donna’s assistance has really made a difference for Krista.

“Donna and Krista have developed a very trusting relationship,” Beckman said. “As Krista’s grown, Donna’s really learned with her. First she took classes in American sign language and became very proficient. When it became evident that Krista could benefit from technology, Donna took more classes and learned about the programs. The big focus for Krista is communication and Donna’s been a great help.”

In the last three years, Krista’s learned how to use a Dynavox, alternative communication device that lets her generate speech.

“It allows her to scan pictures that help with what she wants to say,” Donna said. “She uses a grip switch to pick what she needs. She can answer questions when you ask her, but a lot of times it’s more spontaneous. She’ll start a conversation. She even has joke pages on there that she can socialize with.”

Krista turned 22 on May 2, so she’s no longer eligible for funding from the state of Massachusetts that would allow her to stay at Crotched Mountain. She does qualify for some assistance from United Cerebral Palsy and some of that money will go to paying wages and benefits for Donna.

“Krista will be going into a day program in Woburn, with 99 clients, all of different ages,” Donna said. “One girl we met is just a year older, also in a wheelchair, also using a Dynabox. They seemed to make a good first connection. I’m hoping they’ll become real friends.”

She said Krista had a lot of questions about the day program.

“She wanted to know if they had a lake and if they had swimming. She loves swimming and dancing. She’s very excited about the change.”

Donna plans to spend at least a year living with Krista during the week and going to the day program with her.

“I’ll be there to help with training. Whatever I can do to advocate for her, I will do,” Donna said. She will also be cooking, doing laundry, and keeping the Lexington house in order during the week.

Devin Lucas said his daughter developed a special relationship with Donna, one that became especially strong after Krista’s mother was diagnosed with cancer three years after Krista came to Crotched Mountain.

“The closest people to Krista were her mom and Donna,” Lucas said on Friday. “When her mom died, Donna filled a real need. Krista really struggled. A question in her mind was who else might be going to go. If Krista wasn’t going to see Donna anymore, she would have a really hard time.”

Lucas said carpentry work on the house was being finished over the weekend, and Krista and Donna would be moving in over the weekend as well.

“It’s a good thing that Donna will be with her,” Lucas said. “We don’t want too many changes all at once for her.

Donna, who is 48, said the next year
will certainly be a time of transition
for her as well. Her husband Paul, a computer engineer, works from home in Peterborough. Their oldest child has graduated from college and their younger child is away at college. Donna said she and Paul might consider moving to be closer to Lexington, but it’s too early to make that decision.

“It’s not the usual thing,” Donna said about her decision. “Right now, we’re taking it one year at a time. Up here at Crotched, you have help. I’m going to feel out the situation.”

But she’s also excited about trying new things with Krista.

“She’s going to be transitioning and this is a time for me to transition as well,” Donna said. “There are so many things she’s never done before. I do a lot of 5K road races. I’d love to find a running stroller so I could take her. She said she’d like to try kayaking.”

Donna said she could have stayed at Crotched Mountain and started to work with a different student.

“There are always new kids coming,” she said. “At this time, I wanted to continue being part of [Krista’s] life. She’s made such great strides. I feel there’s so much more for her to accomplish.”

And when asked by Donna about what she thought about her future now that she’s graduating from Cr otched Mountain, Krista, using her Dynavox, had a simple answer: “Future happy.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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