New van purchased by anonymous donor for Richland family

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Gary Guerino thought he was dreaming.

Mr. Guerino, who has multiple sclerosis and uses an electric wheelchair, asked his caretaker to pinch his arm when he received the good news three weeks ago: An anonymous donor had offered a $40,000 wheelchair-accessible van for his family.

Tuesday afternoon in the driveway of their Richland home, Mr. Guerino, his wife, Melissa, and his daughter, Miranda, learned that the gift of the van had not been a dream. Miranda, 16, also uses an electric wheelchair due to an in-utero stroke. She also is limited in her ability to speak, see and write.

While a small crowd of friends cheered, the family's new Dodge Caravan arrived, fitted with an automatic wheelchair ramp and removable passenger seat. Miranda tested it out, wheeling her chair up the ramp and into the passenger seat. "Thank you," she said, smiling as she admired the vehicle.

The van replaces a 16-year-old vehicle. It has a ramp that lowers as the entire vehicle "kneels" to make wheelchair access safer and easier. Better yet, the new Caravan has space for two electric wheelchairs, which is vital for the Guerino family.

Miranda can walk with assistance, but her parents recently decided an electric wheelchair would provide her with more independence.

This means that a visit to see Mr. Guerino's nephew graduate from high school in Hermitage is now possible.

"The fact that we can get both [wheelchairs] in the van is monumental," Mrs. Guerino, 56, said. "She can take her chair to family events with her dad. We can do more as a threesome."

The van also will make it easier for Mrs. Guerino to take her daughter to various appointments, activities or even just shopping.

An anonymous Pittsburgh couple made this possible when they wrote a $40,000 check last week. The husband and wife made the donation after reading about Gary Guerino in the Pine-Richland Patch.

Mr. Guerino had entered a contest to win a new wheelchair accessible van through the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. When the Guerino family did not win the contest, the anonymous couple offered to purchase the van for them.

"There are still angels that exist," Mr. Guerino said. "This is just really going to mean a lot to us as a family."

The donors coordinated with Variety, a charity in Pittsburgh that provides services for children with disabilities affecting their mobility, to purchase a new van for the family.

Although the donors chose to neither attend the presentation of the van nor meet the Guerino family, they wrote a note to the family, passed around at Tuesday's event.

"Your story and the way you are dealing with the challenges in your lives is an example to all of us," the donors wrote.

"They just read that story and were moved," said Charlie LaVallee, chief executive of Variety, who worked with the donors to orchestrate the purchase of the van.

"They are just very compassionate and they're not doing it to get any recognition. They just wanted to make the best life for this family. It is a beautiful thing when you see people doing it solely because they want to help."

Mr. LaVallee and the Guerino family said they hoped others might hear their story and be inspired to make donations to other children with mobility issues.

"I want as much for every kid," Mrs. Guerino said.


Marcus Schwarz: and 412-263-1964. First Published June 7, 2012 9:45 AM


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