California, Md., couple form foundation to aid quadriplegics

By Susan Craton
The Enterprise
Thursday, February 25, 2010; SM16

Kathleen Norris's glance into Bryant Dent's room at the Chesapeake Shores nursing home changed both of their lives.

It was January 2009, and Norris was making one of her regular visits to the facility on Great Mills Road in Lexington Park. She and her husband, Kevin, of California, are associated with Cornerstone Baptist Church in Owings and, as part of a lay ministry with the church, have held services at Chesapeake Shores for about 12 years.

Kathleen Norris has made it a habit to visit with some of the less mobile residents in their rooms after services.

"I don't know why . . . I just looked in the door," Norris said of her initial meeting with Dent. "I saw him lift his head and look at me. I've been here ever since."

"She's become like a mother to me," Dent said.

A bulletin board next to Dent's bed attests to this relationship. It contains photos of Dent's mother and grandmother, both deceased, who took care of him in their Mechanicsville home after the years he spent in a hospital and rehabilitation center following a 1991 accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Dent went to Chesapeake Shores in April 2007.

The bulletin board also contains photos of the Norrises and their children and extended family.

Kathleen spends four to five hours a day with Dent. Kevin, a land surveyor, visits two to three times a week in the evenings.

"They just developed a special bond," said Jaime Reppel, unit manager at Chesapeake Shores.

Dent agrees that he has been adopted by a nice family.

"Yeah, thank God," he said.

The relationship has become more than a comfort to Dent. He and the Norrises have formed the nonprofit Bryant Dent Foundation to help quadriplegics and paraplegics in Southern Maryland gain access to specialized equipment that Medicaid and Medicare don't cover.

Before his accident, Dent was an easygoing, social teenager. He played basketball at Great Mills High School and then at Chopticon High. He graduated in 1990.

On the evening of Nov. 19, 1991, he was driving a Mustang on Mechanicsville-Chaptico Road with three friends in the car. The road was wet. He doesn't remember much about what happened.

"I just know I hit a tree," he said. "I just wasn't paying attention, I guess."

The tree fell on Dent. He spent 2½ years recovering from head and spinal injuries at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in the District.

When he was released, his mother took him home to Mechanicsville. Later, his grandparents moved there to help. Dent's grandmother died in 2005, his mother in 2007. He was left with no one and was moved to Chesapeake Shores. Although Medicaid and Medicare cover his basic medical expenses, they don't pay for the kind of wheelchair, designed for quadriplegics, Dent needs to be independent, Kevin Norris said.

The cost of such a chair ranges from $25,000 to $28,000, Norris said.

That price would be a deal for such a chair, said Paige Tamburo, an assisted technology professional/occupational therapist with Advanced Medical Concepts, which specializes in selling and renting customized medical equipment.

"I've done chairs for as much as $45,000," Tamburo said. "It's an expensive process."

The hope is that the Bryant Dent Foundation's first project will be to provide a wheelchair for Dent. A hands-free computer and hands-free telephone could also be a help to Dent and others in similar situations.

When Kathleen Norris first broached the idea of the nonprofit last spring, Dent had some definite ideas about its mission.

"I didn't want anything to do with the foundation unless it helped other people out," he said. "That's exactly what I was thinking about. If [other quadriplegics] had a chair, anything to help, I know how they'd feel. They'd feel different."

Tamburo said a real need exists for what the foundation is aiming to provide.

"I know a lot of clients" in Dent's position, she said. "And there's no help for them."

The foundation's organizers also hope to add an educational and support aspect to help quadriplegics and paraplegics and their caregivers know what assistance is available. Its first event will be a banquet with a silent auction and dinner theater March 20. Dent and the Norrises hope the event will become an annual fundraiser.

"It's amazing," Dent said of the initial response to the event. "It just makes you happy to know people care about that."

The first Bryant Dent Foundation Banquet will be March 20 at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department social hall. A silent auction will begin at 3 p.m. and a comedy dinner theater performance at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and children. Organizers ask that children younger than 10 not attend. For planning purposes, organizers are asking that tickets be purchased by March 14. For tickets or information, call 240-538-6017 or 301-659-5330. e-mail or buy tickets at Tickets also are available at Wood's Produce in Charlotte Hall.

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