Local construction workers are volunteering to build a handicapped-accessible house for the family of McKenzie Andersen, an 8-year-old Albany girl paralyzed by enterovirus.
Work on the structure began in November, and last week, windows were installed at the home. So far, roughly 400 man hours and thousands of dollars in materials have been donated by about 40 mid-Willamette Valley firms.
“All of these people are literally building us the foundation for a new life,” said Angie Andersen, McKenzie’s mother.
“I know there’s no way to ever repay all these people, but God will bless them in some way,” she added. “So many angels are popping out of the woodwork.”
Matthew Fitchett, owner of 3Lifestyle Homes, said he had donated approximately three weeks of his own time to supervise framing at the new home.
“This is pretty unique. … It shows a lot of the character of Albany,” he said. He estimated that 90 percent of the project would be completely donated.
Fitchett added that the volunteer hours have come at the busiest time for the construction industry since 2007, and some people have turned down work to help out the Andersen family.
The home, off of Waverly Drive Southeast, should be completed in the spring, and will allow the Andersen family to reunite. Their old house isn’t wheelchair accessible, so for months, McKenzie, her mother and her brother have been living in the Phoenix Inn. McKenzie’s dad has been busy fixing up the old house to sell it.
Andersen said that she looked forward to moving into the new home because it will give McKenzie a stable environment to get comfortable.
“It’s hard living out of a hotel room,” she said, noting that there wasn’t much space, and most meals were cooked by microwave or taken out of a small refrigerator.
The family still holds out hope that McKenzie will regain more movement. “But we need to live in the reality of now. I want to be able to give McKenzie the best life I can give her,” Andersen said.
A gala fundraiser last year for the Andersens raised $65,000, and proceeds from that have been used to buy the family a wheelchair-accessible van — and to purchase necessary permits and some materials for construction of the new house.
“Everybody that stepped up and helped and gave needs to know we’re finally doing this,” said Wendy Torgeson, an Albany businesswoman who organized the gala fundraiser and came up with the idea of building the house.
“People want to give, and it’s been amazing. It’s heartwarming,” Torgeson added.
Torgeson recalled that when she asked local developer Gordon Vogt for money to help the Andersens, he replied that he would give them “a lot.” She asked how much money that was, and Vogt explained he was providing a parcel of land.
McKenzie is in a motorized wheelchair for much of the day, and the house will be unique to fit her needs, said Krysten Geer, office manager for N.O.W. Builders, which is in charge of the project.
“This whole house has been developed around her,” she said. Hallways and doorways will be wider than standard, windows are lower than normal and floors have to be able to withstand the 650-pound wheelchair, Geer added.
It also will have a back-up generator installed, as McKenzie is on a ventilator. Her family doesn’t want to have to evacuate to an emergency room if there is a lengthy power outage.
The house will be about 1,750 square feet. Geer guessed that with all the upgrades, it would cost about $250,000 on the open market.
The new home isn’t the only way residents have helped McKenzie and her family. In October, locked out workers from ATI Albany Operations (Oremet) volunteered to paint the old house.
Torgeson said it was important to help out the family in part because Andersen tried to give back to the community after her first son A.J. died in 1999 due to medical complications from his premature birth.
Medical bills for A.J. topped $1 million, but the Andersen family got help from the Children’s Miracle Network to help cover gas, food and other expenses. Before McKenzie got sick, Andersen did an annual fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network, and gave the organization thousands and dollars.
McKenzie came down with what appeared to be a cold in December 2014. It turned out to be enterovirus, and McKenzie had a rare reaction to the disease.
Doctors believe enterovirus swelled her spinal cord, leaving her without the ability to breath or move on her own. She has essentially been on life support ever since. She can move the fingers of her left hand, wiggle her toes and shift her feet a little bit.
Angie Andersen said her daughter has kept her spirits up and enjoys schoolwork, drawing and having friends over to the hotel for visits.