The Schultz family has been named a semi-finalist by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association to win a wheelchair accessible van.
The family received enough votes online to make the top 10 percent of entries submitted from across the country. The Schultz's story will now be reviewed by a selection committee. Three finalists who will receive vans will be chosen in June.
Three of the Schultz's members use a wheelchair, two of them full-time. Both father Jerry and daughter Krystie have multiple sclerosis. Krystie has a rare genetic disorder that is severely debilitating.
Youngest daughter Rebecca, a junior at Downers Grove South, sometimes uses a wheelchair when her MS flares.
Even with two wheelchairs, the family can never travel in one car. The Schultz family’s van and car are only capable of transporting one wheelchair at a time, and loading and unloading are uncomfortable.
The new van would allow Jerry to sit up front with his wife, Laura, while Krystie’s second wheelchair can be tied down in the back.
“It’d be nice to do things as a family as a change,” Laura Schultz said. “The van would be a huge, huge help for us.”
Schultz has three children: Krystie, Rebecca and a son, Bob, who serves as a firefighter in Midlothian, IL.
Laura and Jerry met on a blind date. Both were divorced. At the time, Jerry used two canes to walk.
“He told me he had MS,” Laura Schultz said. “I told him my daughter was profoundly disabled. It was a big responsibility for him to take on, to marry someone who had two kids at the time. But it didn't matter. It didn’t matter that my daughter was disabled and he was disabled."
Her family functions as a team. They take care of each other, she said. Jerry became the father her children didn't have.
"He needs me, and I need him," Schultz said. "He's there for my daughter. He became their dad."
It’s been a whirlwind ever since.
Take last year, for instance, when Jerry had two heart surgeries and four surgeries on his elbow. Rebecca’s MS flared up, requiring her to be hospitalized for weeks at a time and leaving her without control of her body.
All the while, Krystie required 24/7 care.
Laura works part-time in a medical office in addition to running the household and caring for Krystie. She also is the only driver in the family and has been helping Jerry finish his bachelor's degree and look for a job. Her part-time job is her respite. Not surprisingly, people often ask her how to handles everything.
“You just do,” she said. “You always look at it that as bad as things have been, and every month it’s something, every day you’re going to a doctor or therapy or pharmacist, it can always be worse.
“Nobody’s going to die from what we have. It’s debilitating, but it’s not as bad as it could be. It could be 100 times worse. It could be cancer. We’re all here. It can always be worse.”
Rebecca is now getting ready for prom. She plans to go to College of DuPage and go to some sort of radiology program. Because of her upbringing, Schultz said she’s one of the most compassionate people she’s known. Although Rebecca is seven years younger, she's become a second mom to Krystie.
“She’s the first one to speak up if someone is being pick on,” Schultz said. “She befriends everyone.”
Her family's sense of humor helps them face the challenges each day brings, Schultz said.
“We’re not a gloomy house,” she said. “We like to laugh. We have to have something to laugh about.
"We can't sit and complain and be on the pity pot all the time. If we have a bad time, then it's over and done with. Today is going to be better, and we need to move on and have some fun."