An entire parish pulls together to lift the life of one.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria School and Parish in Oak Lawn, just completed a yearlong construction project installing an elevator for 11-year-old student, Jack Dematteo, of Oak Lawn, who’s battling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy .
DMD causes muscle degeneration, initially weakening the legs and pelvis and eventually progressing to other areas of the body. Early signs include enlarged calf muscles, low endurance, difficulties standing unaided and inability to ascend staircases.
So the attitude around the school was that if the young man could not climb stairs, why not build him an elevator? And other kids could use it, too.
Tom Dematteo, Jack’s father, of Oak Lawn said St. Catherine has been exceptional assisting Jack at school.
“The students and faculty have really taken ownership of caring for Jack,” he said. “Our only issue was the stairs. Even with help, it’s hard for him to navigate up four levels.”
Thanks to more than a few good men, those stairs are no longer an issue. Tony Martin, of Mt. Greenwood acted as the project coordinator that spearheaded a community collaboration to make St. Catherine, located at 10621 S Kedvale in Oak Lawn, handicap assessable.
Jack’s courage is said to be unmatched. Parents within the parish began to take notice.
Martin said, “My son, Eddie, and Jack are classmates and play on the basketball team together. Jack plays at least three minutes every game. He inspires the entire parish.”
The project was first under the watch of Rev. Patrick Henry, the parish’s pastor. Henry died last March 11 following a brief illness.
“Father Patrick [Rev. Patrick Henry] spent almost four hours looking over the plans for the project and told us it looked good,” Martin said. “I let him know, we’d get it done. Sadly, he died the next day. Those were the last words I said to him. There was no way it wasn’t going to happen after that!”
The loss of Father Henry and Jack’s fighting spirit became the impetus for St. Catherine’s Men’s Club. The members were said to have had a defiant determination to keep their word to Father Henry, but it wasn’t easy.
The St. Catherine’s Men’s Club has been active for over 30 years and is 250 men strong. It holds various events throughout the year. It was at one of the group’s fundraisers that the elder Dematteo, interjected his proposal for how the funds could be used.
“Is it possible to install a stair lift?” he asked the group.
Most agreed with the need for handicap accessibility but a stair lift wasn’t the way to go.
Martin said, “An elevator would accommodate everyone but it was cost prohibitive; the estimate came in at $250,000.”
Before the Men’s Club was involved, Dematteo said he’d been trying for two years to get St. Catherine’s handicap assessable. His hope for the cause began to wane.
“We’ve been able to slow the progression of this disease by participating in a clinical trial out of Ohio,’’ Tom Dematteo said. “For the last 130 weeks, Jack received injections of a drug called, Eteplirsen via an IV. In addition to his weekly IV he has a 45 minute stretching session nightly as well as weekly aquatic PT. He has had three muscle biopsies as a result of the trial and just two weeks ago had a port put in. Scar tissue has built up on Jack’s hands and forearm making the traditional needle IV very difficult with five-plus attempts.”
Martin, a lieutenant for the Chicago Fire Department and recent graduate from John Marshall law school, knows how to network. He reached out to anyone and everyone for assistance. He said, “I never got a ‘no.’ Everyone I asked genuinely wanted to help.”
The list of contributors are too numerous to name but Christ Hospital donated $10,000 with grant funds but was going to take a miracle to raise the rest and it came, but not in the form of cash, but people.
Local businesses started donating their labor and materials to make up the difference. The Union of Elevator Constructors Local 2, 5860 W 111th, Chicago Ridge, provided the plans necessary to start the job. 360 Architecture played a big part in the design.
Then came McBrearty Construction, 10900 S Hamlin, Chicago. That company completed the construction in the elevator shaft and reconstructed the surrounding ground level. Most of the material was donated by vendors McBrearty works with.
An elevator is just a box without power. So, Palos Electric Co., 14030 S Kildare Ave, Crestwood plugged in providing all the electrical work.
Elevator Services and Company managed the legal aspects to ensure everything was being done according to code. Attorney John Campbell’s expertise was made useful in securing the legitimacy of the arrangement with all parties.
Additionally, the Archdioceses acted in cooperation with the team’s efforts along with a host of additional volunteers and financial contributors.
The elder Dematteo said, “St. Catherine’s have lifted a huge burden off of Jack making it one less thing he has to deal with,’’ Dematteo said.
Martin is glad that the Dematteo family is grateful for what they’ve done.
“Everybody loves Jack but this isn’t just for him,” Martin said. “It’s our mission to assist the parish and the community when called upon and when able.”