BINGHAMTON, NY – Alice Cavanagh grew up on Long Island accustomed to caring for others in a multi-generational home, including her ailing grandfather.
But that care would rise to a whole new level in 1972 when her husband Vinny fell off a step ladder, breaking his neck and becoming paralyzed from the neck down.
Erin says, “It was a pretty scary time. No one really knew what to do with my dad. Not many people had survived that kind of thing.”
Vinny spent 8 months in Wilson Hospital and another 8 months at a rehab facility in New York City. Meanwhile, Alice relied on friends and neighbors to help care for their 4 young children.
Alice says, “It was very important that you not look so far into the future. You take one day at a time.”
The Cavanaghs had moved to Chenango Bridge when Vinny was promoted to a job as a civil engineer with the D-O-T. After his injury, Vinny wanted to resign, but the state wouldn’t let him. With the help of relatives, the Cavanaghs installed a home office for him to work out of.
Alice says, “He was the brains and I was the hands. Yes, it worked very well.”
And Vinny remained active in his children’s lives, tutoring them and attending all of their after school functions.
Alice says, “He was bound and determined and I was bound and determined that he would raise his children and be home with them and it worked out.”
Erin Cavanagh was 11 when her father was injured. With the aid of hindsight, she’s gained a greater appreciation of the sacrifices her mother had to make.
Erin Cavanagh reading from her submission says, “She would never think that what she did and does is extraordinary, but to those who watch it most, it certainly is.”
At the time of his accident, Alice had been taking night classes to become a nurse. Instead she became a nurse for one.
When Vinny died in 1993, Alice turned to helping out in the community. Every Wednesday morning, she and her friend Karen volunteer by cleaning and changing beds at the Danielle House, a Binghamton home away from home for people who have loved ones in the hospital.
Erin says, “She’s a community-minded person from church to family to friends. She feels very comfortable in that role of helping people.”
Alice also visits almost daily a dear friend recovering from a stroke who was there for her in her darkest hours. For Alice, it’s the natural thing to do.
Alice says, “People just rally around you. People are wonderful. We couldn’t really survive without friends, without family.”
And Alice and Vinny gave back in another way, meeting with other quadriplegics and proving through their actions, that life can endure a seemingly insurmountable tragedy