In the hospital room, weeks after he came out of his coma, Cheryl Young made a promise to her son, Zach Mohs.
She told him she was going to find him a house so that the hit-and-run accident that almost killed him wouldn’t take away the rest of his life.
On the first day of April — a year and a half after the September 2012 tragedy — Young and her son were sitting in the brand-new kitchen of that house, a two-story in South St. Paul, where most of their family lives. The house, built with discounted and donated labor and paid for by fundraisers and a Twin Cities construction charity, was designed so Mohs can easily move through it with his power wheelchair.
Soon, Young said, they hope to install a lift so Mohs can go downstairs to a future gym, where he’ll build the strength to walk again.
The story of Mohs’ new home is one of surviving the odds. After hitting and running him over, a serially reckless driver left Mohs on the street with brain injuries, fractured bones and a leg that would have to be amputated. Weeks later, doctors told Young that Mohs, now 28, was fortunate to escape his coma at all.
But Young decided from the beginning, no matter what doctors told her, that her son would walk. Today, with the help of a walker, Mohs has taken steps. His passion, skateboarding, will someday be possible again.
Young faced her own long odds to get the home built. She had to quit her job to care for Mohs. Last year, in the middle of his rehabilitation, she faced her own bout with cancer. She has organized numerous fundraisers, and she’s cold-called whoever might be able to help.
From Anchorage, Alaska — where Mohs lived when he was hit, and where his family kept vigil for him until he moved to Minnesota — Young called Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, a nonprofit that coordinates volunteers to help renovate homes for families in need. They helped Young get the process started. Later, she called the Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC) Foundation, which had renovated the home of Jack Jablonski, the injured high school hockey player, to make it wheelchair-accessible.
At first, Cheryl didn’t get a response. But she called back, then called back again. Then late last year, with the help of general contractor Jon Anderson, the foundation stepped in to finish construction of the house, which before was being built as money came in from fundraisers.
“I saw Cheryl with all that she had gone through, and her determination,” said Anderson, who discounted his work as general contractor on the house. “She just needed someone to help … get the project going.”
In all, more than 30 organizations discounted or donated work to get the $220,000 house built. With Mohs’ monthly income — $800 a month in Social Security benefits — and without an income from Young, the project could not have worked any other way.
As they welcomed Mohs to his new home, though, friends and contributors marveled less at the new house than what Young did to get it built. “That’s a persistent woman,” said a man in the crowd.
“You all can’t believe — well, you can believe — what a mother’s love can do,” said Katie Harms, chairwoman of the foundation’s board, before the house was opened to the public for BATC’s Parade of Homes.
Mohs and Young still face a load of challenges. The grueling work of physical therapy will continue several times a week, and in May, Mohs will have surgery, with weeks of recovery, to make his left arm bend again. Supplemental therapy and vitamins will have to be paid for. Young’s car was totaled in January, and she hopes to buy a van to give him more reliable transport than the county medical van.
Fortunately, Medicaid has covered the cost of most treatment for Mohs, whose employer didn’t offer health insurance. And today, after moving from hospital to hospital, rehab center to group home, Mohs is finally in his own home. He talks about getting back on his skateboard. “I know it’s going to take awhile,” he said. “I’m still working on my balance.”
“But it’s doable,” Young adds. She and Mohs have grown closer through his recovery. She ribs him to quit smoking and jokes about getting too hands-on. She shares new comments on the Facebook support page she runs for him.
“She shows me all the new comments,” Mohs said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s just good to know I’m inspiring somebody.”
In front of Young on the kitchen table is a gift from her friend. It’s a devotional book called “Surprise Me: A 30-Day Experiment in Faith.”
“I didn’t need to experiment,” she said. “I’ve done it. It works.”
Graison Hensley Chapman is a Northfield freelance writer.