Family donates ramp for woman with debilitating disease

“They went above and beyond, and we thank God for everything they and everyone else has done for us.”

That was the message town of Pomfret resident Nancy Gagola wished to send to the Brown family of Fredonia after several of them built a new handicap-accessible ramp for Gagola’s 26-year-old daughter, Ashley. Ashley is currently fighting mitochondrial disease (diagnosed in October 2012) and gastroparesis, so regular bodily functions, including those necessary to survive, have become difficult for her body to carry out.

Mitochondrial disease forces cells in a person’s body to die off, eventually causing organs to shut down.

Ashley was diagnosed with gastroparesis prior to mitochondrial disease in February 2011 after her stomach shut down, meaning she has difficulty digesting food and must use a type of catheter placed into her chest and a J-tube implanted into her small intestine to receive nutrition.

Her autonomic nervous system has also malfunctioned, and she now must use a scooter or wheelchair to get around since her muscles are deteriorating.

“We have to travel to New York City every two or three months (for one of her doctor’s appointments), and that costs anywhere between $600 and $700,” Nancy said, pointing out Ashley and her family receive assistance through the RO Foundation to travel across the state for Ashley’s treatment.

With Ashley’s health continuing to be a serious concern, her boyfriend, Ryan Mathews, created a GoFundMe webpage in July to raise funds for a ramp at the Gagolas’ residence in the Lake Erie Mobile Home Park, as well as for Ashley’s medical bills.

“It’s very difficult knowing there’s nothing I can do to take her pain away,” Mathews wrote as he created the webpage. “I see what she goes through on a daily basis and it’s amazing how strong she is and has to be to make it through each day. She still stays very positive throughout everything. With everyone’s help, we all can help take some worry and stress off of her and get her a ramp so she can feel more free and independent.”

Amanda Brown, who worked with Ashley for a few months at St. Columban’s On the Lake Retirement Home, learned of Ashley’s condition through the GoFundMe page and wanted to do something more than just donate money to help her out.

“I was talking to my mother about it and how sorry I felt for her, and my parents just decided to build her a ramp. They donated their own money and labor,” Brown said after the OBSERVER reached out to her for comment. “Ashley is the sweetest woman in the whole world. She’s caring for a four-year-old son and when she was at St. Columban’s, she was such a hard worker and so caring toward the residents.

Brown added that not even a week after Ashley started her job as an aide, she found out a co-worker (and also Brown’s sister-in-law) was going to become an aunt; Ashley then offered her some of her son’s toys.

“She didn’t even know her and she was offering to give her things,” Brown remarked. “She’s just a really great person. She’s so positive as she goes through this too; she amazes me and inspires me daily. My dad’s exact words were, ‘How could you meet her and not want to help her?'”

Brown’s father and her two brothers took a couple days to build Ashley’s ramp, which was completed on Aug. 10. A video of Ashley going up the ramp with a smile on her face was posted to the GoFundMe page.

Nancy referred to the Browns as “Ashley’s heaven sent,” due to the overwhelming generosity they showed her daughter.

Almost two weeks ago, Ashley was rushed to Brooks Memorial Hospital and transferred to Buffalo General Hospital due to a severe infection, this after finishing five weeks of IV antibiotics for a previous infection that started in July. Doctors believe the infection could be in her heart.

“She’s really ill right now, and she might not even make it through this time,” Nancy said, adding she is praying for the best for her daughter.

To learn more about Ashley’s journey, or to donate to help with medical bills, visit GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/buwl9s. The page has raised $900 so far.

Comments on this article may be sent to gfox@observertoday.com