Andy Fierlit stayed true to his promise when he married his wife to stay together in sickness and health. 27 years ago, his wife, Donna, suffered a brain aneurysm that left her paralyzed and bound to her wheelchair. Doctors advised Andy to check her in a skilled nursing facility.
However, Andy refused this suggestion and wanted to make his wife’s life normal again; maybe beyond normal as they embarked on a journey of a lifetime.
Since her diagnosis and his refusal to surrender her to a skilled nursing facility, Donna and her faithful husband have visited seven continents, including 20 countries, so far. Andy is patiently pushing her wife’s wheelchair for her to see the world.
According to CNN, Donna struggles with short-term memory loss and she relies on her husband to accomplish the daily tasks. She remained in her wheelchair, but they continued to roll.
Donna named her wheelchair “Proud Mary” and the three of them tour the world. However, it has not been easy.
Handicap accessibility is different around the world and there are obstacles that they faced during their travels. For example, trains in Europe are not always disabled people-friendly. Once, Donna had to ride in the cargo area.
In rural Australia, the airport did not have ramps, and Donna had to disembark the plane on a forklift. Their hotel room in Ireland was handicap-accessible, but the entry door was too small for Donna’s wheelchair.
Andy and Donna are high school sweethearts after they met 58 years ago at a church dance. They did not take off on a good note.
Andy asked Donna for a stick of gum. “Get lost,” she said.
“I told her I wanted to marry her, and she said, ‘No, you’re not,'” Andy recalled fondly.
However, he persevered and went out on a couple of dates until they became an item. Five years later, they tied the knot. They built a family and had four children.
The couple is not well-off. When Andy’s employer went bankrupt, Andy took on odd jobs, such as peddling fruit, in order to provide for his family.
“The challenges are there. But if you think ahead and preplan, you can overcome them,” Andy said.
“You know, it takes a lot of things to make love. It takes patience, it takes understanding, it takes kindness,” he added.
They paid for their trips from what they have left from their savings. While their secret stash is dwindling, they are accumulating memories and they remain hopeful that with a bit of generosity, they will one day reach Scandinavia.
“One step at a time,” Andy says. “That was the goal: to live on, enjoy life.”
Photo credit: Fierlit Family Photo | CNN