Merlene Davis: Spinal cord injury victim hopes for new van

In February and March, Abigail Carter's wheelchair accessible van was in the shop for needed repairs.

"I made a joke about it, saying I gave up my van for Lent," she said.

But losing the services of her van was no joke. Carter, 35, uses a wheelchair and needs that specially equipped van to be as close to independent as those of us who don't use wheelchairs.

Since 2007, shortly after she moved to Wilmore to attend Asbury Seminary, one thing after another has failed on that van. First it was the air conditioner, and then either the accessibility equipment or the van itself took turns breaking down.

"While I am thankful to have a van, it is an added stress to my life as well," she said. "I don't make a lot of money."

Carter thinks the 2003 Kia van just wasn't built to accommodate accessibility equipment such as a ramp and accessories.

Still, when it works, the van has opened new doors for her. It allowed more independence for her than when she owned a car and had to take her chair apart to put it in the back seat.

So when she was told of a contest that awards three vans built to accommodate the needs of each winner, Carter gave it a try.

The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, a not-for-profit trade association founded in 1989, launched a Local Hero contest that began in March and concludes in May, National Mobility Awareness Month. The purpose of the contest, which is in its second year, is to highlight the stories of individuals in communities throughout the country who are affected by mobility issues.

Individuals, caregivers, friends and families can submit entries through May 11, although nationwide voting is already under way.

After May 15, when voting ends, the entries that are in the top five percent of vote getters will be reviewed by a panel of judges who will then announce three winners by the end of May. Last year, 1,700 entries garnered 1.2 million votes.

The judges will be looking for the most inspirational stories of people demonstrating how they are overcoming challenges to live an active, mobile lifestyle despite their physical challenges.

As of last week, 33 Kentuckians had submitted entries, including two more from Lexington and others from Richmond, Mount Sterling, Paris and Winchester in this area. Check the website for specific information on each of those entries.

None had as many votes as Carter, who had more than 21,000 late last week.

Carter submitted a video online in March that features clients and co-workers at Lexington Rescue Mission, where she is director of outreach, talking about how much she is appreciated there.

"She has such a heart for everyone who walks in the door," said Natalie Cunningham, public relations coordinator at the mission. "Her main thing is that absolutely everybody is treated with dignity and respect. Everyone who walks in is in crisis and needs to be listened to in the same way."

Cunningham said Carter may be more sensitive to others because she understands what it means to struggle in life. "And clients understand that," she said.

While living in Florida, Carter suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury at age 8 when she was playing with a gun that belonged to her father, a police officer, and it went off. There is some feeling in her legs, but she can't walk at all, she said. "I've been in a chair for 28 years," Carter said.

While earning her master's degree in counseling at Asbury, Carter completed her practicum at the mission and accepted a job there in 2011.

"She makes time for her clients," Cunningham said. "They are a part of her life."

She takes them out for coffee or for plays, Cunningham said. "She wants everyone to experience a normal life."

Carter said a new van would change not only her life, but the lives of those around her.

"We have so many people around us who live in hopelessness," she said. "To win something means there is hope. I really feel like it is hope that God hears us. God hears your prayers."

The mission tries to meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of hurting people, Carter said, adding her role is to "ensure those three are met efficiently and adequately with the most love and the most respect."

Isolation, she said, "is probably the biggest thing people struggle with and when we don't have a vehicle, isolation is huge. I missed not going to church during Lent."

I don't know about you, but I'd like to see Carter get a sparkling new handicap-accessible van. I'm going to help her out. You might want to, too.

How to help

To give Abigail Carter a chance to win a van, go to You can vote once daily per computer or Smartphone. You can get updates at "Help Abigail Win a Van" on Facebook.

How to help

To give Abigail Carter a chance to win a van, go to You can vote once daily per computer or Smartphone. You can get updates at "Help Abigail Win a Van" on Facebook.