Defying the odds

MILFORD – A few days before the Fourth of July in 1979, Mark Carter suffered traumatic brain injuries in a car accident in Hampton that killed his mother and his 9-year-old brother and severely injured his father.

Mark was 17 and the Carters were living on Falconer Avenue in Milford. He spent 10 years recovering and now has some speech and balance problems but is happily married and living in Auburn, New York.

Mark and Pam met online in 2001. Pam came to Milford on a bus, with a bodyguard, to meet him, and they quickly feel in love and got married exactly one year later. They immediately began planning their future, and 15 years ago they fulfilled what had been a life-long dream for both: They had a son, Angelo.

Life wasn’t easy. Pam was born with cerebral palsy and she is now confined to a wheelchair most of the time, but Mark is enormously proud of her and their son.

“She is one tough cookie – in a good way,” he said on the phone last week, describing how Pam manages to do all their laundry herself, while he does the cooking, under her guidance. Mark also does the snowplowing and yardwork, which still amazes him, considering that it took him two years after the accident to walk without crutches and three years to jog.

“She showed me that being handicapped does not mean you have to stop” doing what you want to do, he said. “She does so much for me … She changed my life. She is tough on me and I needed that … She is remarkable”

And Angelo “is the pride of our lives — polite and friendly,” he said. A freshman at Auburn High School, Angelo is also an excellent swimmer. Starting when he was 6 months old, Mark would take him to the Auburn YMCA pool for lessons.

Some people worried that the couple could not cope with a child, because of their handicaps,“but we did a pretty good job,” Mark said. “I am so happy.”

Early on, Mark and Pam moved from Milford to New York to be close to the public transportation that makes their independent lives possible. Their house is somewhat handicap accessible, but not enough, now that Pam’s disability has progressed and she is going to have hernia surgery soon.

“When I first met her she could walk” and park the wheelchair in the kitchen and get around, Mark said. “Now she really can’t do much.”

This is where their friend Beverly Wheeling comes in. Wheeling called The Cabinet last week, looking for a news clipping about the 1979 accident, because she is nominating the couple for the reality-television show Extreme Makeover – Home Edition.

Commonly called Extreme Home Makeover, the TV show coordinates with a local contractor, who then coordinates with various companies in the building trades to do work, using donated materials and labor, for a needy family.

Wheeling knows what the couple needs because she works for a home care agency and helps Pam with everyday tasks. The Carter’s bathroom is so small, she has to stand in the shower to help Pam wash. And their house needs a lot of work, she said.

“When I first meet them, I was like, ‘oh my goodness, what a true love story’.” she said. “Then I learned about the accident, and I wanted to cry.”

“Most people would have given up,” Wheeling said. “But they are so happy and full of humor … I would be really frustrated, but nothing gets in their way.

“They are so responsible and in church every week, and Pam volunteers for the youth group, she said. “I think they deserve this.”

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.