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Palm Coast Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017 5 years ago

'You will walk again': Spinal disabilities bring two Palm Coast families together

Fundraisers on April 2 and 8 hope to raise the standard of living for Deputy Stephen Watkins.
by: Colleen Michele Jones Community Editor

When Stephen Watkins came into Lowe's to take a look at ways he could better accommodate his disability at his Palm Coast home, Emey Miranda instantly became a confidante and supporter rather than a salesperson.

Watkins, a deputy with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, fell ill with a paralyzing infection Aug. 1, 2016, that left him immobile from the waist down. After several surgeries and ongoing rehabilitation, Watkins, 28, remains confined to a wheelchair, even as he continues to work on desk duty in the Sheriff's Office as a dispatcher 40 hours a week.

But even as he is able to keep up his professional career — albeit, less active than he was as a full-time corrections officer in the county jail — Watkins has had to make special accommodations in his personal life, including reliance on a trusty (also, sweet and loyal) service dog named Mya. In addition, Watkins, who lives alone, has struggled with how to navigate his home in a wheelchair.

Enter Miranda. As a rooms designer at Lowe's, she is skilled with crafting homes to suit their owners' needs, in this case, for a disabled young man.

The thing is, Miranda actually knows about this firsthand. Her son, Sage, now 33, was deemed spinally paralyzed by a car accident in 2006. At that time, doctors told Miranda and her family that her son would never walk again. The family did not accept that diagnosis.

"As a family, we started working with him and eventually he started walking," Miranda said.

Neither has Watkins accepted the fate some physicians might see in his future. His family — father, Gary, a retired investigator for the Putnam County (New York) Sheriff's Office, and mother Patty — agree.

"I have obstacles every day, but I still hold out hope that I will walk again," Watkins said.

When Watkins wheeled into Miranda's department of Lowe's in January of this year, he was looking to see how he might retrofit his living quarters, especially his kitchen and bathroom, to meet his needs. The problem: a nearly $20,000 price tag that Watkins definitely couldn't afford.

"I actually went home that night and looked at my savings account to see if I could pay for it, but I just couldn't," Miranda said.

But with help from Joe Bareli, a detective with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, and others in the law enforcement community, Miranda has come up with a way she hopes will more than pay for the cost for accommodations to Watkins' apartment, such as lower-reach cabinets, an easy-reach stove and renovations in his bathroom.

A fundraiser organized by Bareli and Miranda, on April 2, drew more than 100 people at the Cue Note Billiard Club, which donated its space for the event. A silent auction, with items contributed by local retailers, included gift prizes totaling more than $11,000, which organizers hoped would go a ways toward reaching the goal they hoped to meet for Watkins.

For his part, Watkins said he was "truly amazed" at the turnout at the April 2 event. "Both from people I know and don't know," he said, "the support has been amazing."

For Miranda and her family, who have seen their own version of a miracle, it's about supporting another hometown resident who has struggled against the same battles they've been through.

"I said, I don't know how," Miranda said, "but that I've always told him [Watkins], 'I will see you walk again.'"


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