‘An angel in disguise’: WMed student builds wheelchair ramp for patient in need

Michael Chavarria
In July, third-year student Michael Chavarria helped build a wheelchair ramp for a patient in need.

In July, Tammy Willard sat in Bronson Methodist Hospital beleaguered by two harsh realities.

The first was that her home in Kalamazoo’s Twinleaf mobile home park lacked a wheelchair ramp for her to easily enter and leave, often leaving her feeling trapped. And then, during her second day in the hospital, came the news that her mother had passed away.

In the middle of it all, she said, Michael Chavarria, a third-year student at WMed, walked into her hospital room and relieved some of her stress with a simple act of kindness – he offered to build a wheelchair ramp at her home.

“Mike,” Willard said recently, “was a blessing to come in and build this for us.”

Chavarria was completing his Internal Medicine clerkship and doing rotations at Bronson when he learned of Willard’s circumstances on July 2. On July 3, he said he offered to build the wheelchair ramp at her home and on the Fourth of July he arrived at her home to take the measurements he would need to complete the project.

Chavarria said a relative of Willard’s already had the metal wheelchair ramp to attach to the house. So, he sought the help of two of his classmates – M3s Jordan Fenlon and Felix Wan – as well as a neighbor who was an experienced contractor.

By July 29th, the project was finished.

“There was a need and I figured I could help,” Chavarria said of his decision – and willingness – to help Willard. “It was meaningful to them but it’s not like what I did is that big of a deal. It took a couple of days and a couple of hundred dollars and it was done.”

Michael Chavarria
Tammy Willard, 50, of Kalamazoo, said she was thankful for the new wheelchair ramp, which made it easier for her and her husband to get in and out of their home in Kalamazoo.

Willard, a Kalamazoo native, said she suffers from neurofibromatosis and has used a wheelchair for the last four years. Her husband, Steve, 53, broke his neck about a year ago and also uses a wheelchair, she said.

Willard said she and husband, along with their son and two daughters, have lived in the Twinleaf mobile home park since June 2017. Before Chavarria attached the wheelchair ramp to their front porch at the end of July, she said she and her husband lacked any way to get out of their home.

“We were trapped in our own home and when (Chavarria) said he would come and build it for us, I said, ‘Are your kidding me?’ and he said, ‘No, I’m going to come and build it for you.’”

Now, with the ramp in place, Willard said her husband is able to leave their home and take rides around their mobile home park and enjoy some fresh air. He also takes their grandchildren to a nearby park.

Willard said she also can get in and out of her family’s home more easily and her trips for doctor appointments are much less stressful.

“It’s perfect, we couldn’t ask for anything better,” Willard said. “Mike was an angel in disguise when he said could build the ramp for us.”

For Chavarria, he said he was glad that he could lend a hand to the Willards and provide help that made their lives a little better and their daily tasks a little easier.

“There are things that we don’t think about,” Chavarria said. “Being able to leave your house isn’t something I think a lot of us give thanks for, but for them that was a big deal. I’m glad I could help.”