Disabled woman, daughter struggle to save Kearns home

Published: Thursday, Dec. 29 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

Mandi Shaw and Dakota Hultquist talk in the Shaw's livingroom in Kearns on Friday, December 23, 2011. The Shaw's are on the verge of losing their home, but a member of the neighborhood church is trying to prevent that from happening by asking for donations for the Shaw's.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

KEARNS — Struggle is no stranger in the life of Mandi Shaw.

The 47-year-old Kearns woman has spent her life dealing with severe, debilitating birth defects. And in recent years, heart problems have rendered her permanently disabled and unable to work. She has only 20 percent of normal cardiac capacity.

In 2010, her husband died from cancer.

Now, her only income is a small disability check.

Shaw is far behind on the mortgage payments on her small home of nearly 20 years, and she has little prospect of ever catching up.

With no family to fall back on, she and her 19-year-old daughter, Cortney, are facing the very real possibility they may soon be living in their pickup truck. Instead of Christmas cheer, they experienced a grinding anxiety.

In desperation, they are making a public appeal for help. A video on YouTube titled "Save Mandi's House" depicts their plight, but it's gotten only about 100 hits.

Since she graduated from Kearns High School in June, Cortney has struggled to pick up the slack in the family budget. She had been working two part-time jobs but recently lost one. As a janitor at a recreation center, Cortney earns $7.80 an hour working about 20 hours a week.

That leaves her far short of the $729 she needs to pay the mortgage — the contribution she must make to the family budget.

Cortney is scouring the streets hoping to find more work, but jobs are hard to come by, and although she comes across as articulate and personable — perhaps mature beyond her years — her skills and experience are limited.

Ron Baker, who runs a small insurance agency, has championed their cause. He met the family as a volunteer LDS service missionary when he was assigned to give them financial counseling. He's made it his personal crusade to keep them in their home and help Cortney get better employment.

Even before she was born in 1964, Mandi's cards were being dealt from a deck steeply stacked against her.

She says her mother was working to put Mandi's father through medical school, and Mandi's conception came as an unwelcome surprise, so the couple decided to put the baby up for adoption.

Her birth defects may have contributed to their decision, Mandi says.

There were no takers. No one wanted a disabled child facing lifelong medical problems.

She said she was turned over to the state. Two nurses from the hospital agreed to take turns raising her.

Mandi spent her childhood in and out of hospitals. At birth she had a dislocated hip that had to be fixed.

She also had clubbed feet, which meant that as she grew, doctors had to slice open her calves and stretch her Achilles tendons every six to nine months. Without the repeated procedures, she said she would have had to walk only on her tippy toes.

After each operation, she had to learn to walk all over again. And by about the time she recovered, the process would begin again.  

"This was the childhood I had," she said. "Hospitals and surgeries and braces and stuff like that."

She was also born with useless, shriveled fingers that extended from a stub of a right forearm lacking a hand. Eventually, they were surgically removed so she could be fitted with a prosthetic hook. But she found it easier to just use her bare stub as her hand. It's of more use than her intact left hand, she says.

That's because at birth her left arm hung limply from her side, Gumby-like, she said. Doctors had to switch her bicep with her triceps and fuse her elbow into a permanently bent position. That allows her to raise the arm to about chin level and have some use of it.

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