Volunteers build ramp for veteran

Published 7:30 pm Monday, March 25, 2019

VALLEY — A long string of personal misfortune and bad luck of the worst kind changed for the good on Friday for James Brooks.

Local podiatrist Dr. Rick Kuhn and Chuck Richards and his 10-year-old son, Dean, of Auburn, worked together to build Brooks a free wheelchair ramp.

Chuck Richards and his son Dean Richards, 10, help install a wheelchair ramp for U.S. Navy Veteran James Brooks in Valley,

“I’m disabled, on Social Security and don’t have much money,” Brooks said.

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Brooks proudly flies the U.S. flag on his front porch. He’s a U.S. Navy veteran, having served as a submariner aboard the USS Nathan Hale from 1979-81.

“We were off the coast of Russia a lot,” he said.

It was a period of strained relations between the two countries after the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympics the following year.

“I grew up an Army brat,” he said, explaining that his dad was in the U.S. Army for 20 years. “We traveled all over and had a pretty good life back then.”

Dean Richards, 10, uses a level while his dad Chuck Richards screws in a nail while installing a wheelchair ramp for U.S. Navy Veteran James Brooks.

His life hasn’t been very good in recent times. He’s recently had both his legs amputated below the knees due to complications of diabetes. His mother and an aunt died in recent weeks and to top it all off, he said he was recently scammed by a man falsely claiming he was from the VA. He took money, stole Brooks’ car and wrecked it.

“I’ve got insurance but can’t get it fixed right now because I don’t have $500 for the deductible,” Brooks said.

Brooks said the man claimed to represent Wounded Warriors.

“He told me he had been a Navy SEAL and made a good presentation,” Brooks said. “He showed me some ID cards that had to be fake. He was a scam artist who took advantage of me and my situation.”

Before being disabled with foot and leg problems, Brooks had worked in the food industry. People in the local area may have seen him from time to time driving one of the yellow Swan’s Foods trucks in the local area. He’d previously worked in restaurant management at Shoney’s and Ryan’s in LaGrange.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” he said. “There was a time when I was young and hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do. I did some welding, some roofing and home construction. My dad taught me to never quit a job until you’ve got your foot in the door for a better one.”

Dean Richards, 10, uses a power drill to screw in nails while his dad Chuck Richards supervises during the installation of a wheelchair ramp for U.S. Navy Veteran James Brooks in Valley.

He’s optimistic that he can be fitted with prosthetic legs and be able to get around once again.

“Having them come to my house today and put in this wheelchair ramp really pulled me out of the dumps,” he said. “I’d been having a really bad time lately.”

Having good neighbors can do that for you. One of them, Lori Boyd, keeps in touch with him every day to see how he’s doing. She took the initiative to call Cheryl Myers of the Christian Service Center, who talked to Dr. Kuhn and got the ball rolling.

“I’d been having leg problems for the past five-and-a-half years,” Brooks said. “It really got bad after I broke a callus off my big toe. It turned a gray color and I called my sister Cindy, who’s an RN, to look at it. She wrapped it with gauze, and I thought I was going to be OK. I took the gauze off the next day, and it had turned black. I knew I was in trouble.”

At first, just that toe was amputated.

“I started getting infections and that meant more amputations,” Brooks said.

At one point, he spent six weeks at the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika.

“There are some good people down there,” he said. “They put up with me.”

The father and son who drove up from Auburn to build the wheelchair ramp are with a church outreach program.

“I work with Dr. Kuhn on a lot of projects,” Chuck Richards said. “We’re with the Church of the Highlands and are all about sharing the love of Jesus.”