Intensely focused, Ireland D’Metayer puts on her wheelchair brakes, grips its handles, and with upper body strength propels herself forward and out of the chair.
The momentum carries her onto the kitchen counter, giving her the support and leverage to reach for the ingredients of her famous strawberry cheesecake.
“Everybody in this house dies for it,” D’Metayer said, searching for a bowl in the cabinet. When she found it, she launched her body back into her wheelchair. “You have to try it one day.”
D’Metayer, 47, had two strokes in 2007, shortly after her mother passed away the previous year. The strokes severely damaged her speech, vision, balance and coordination. D’Metayer also suffers residual effects of thrombosis — the formation of blood clots inside a blood vessel.
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Since then, she has been unable to walk and uses a wheelchair. However, her North Miami Beach home is not sufficiently wheelchair accessible.
As a result, D’Metayer scoots around on her hands and knees in order to get up or down the two steps leading from her bedroom to the rest of the house. To bathe, D’Metayer uses this scooting method to move around in the bathroom, which has no grab bars.
It’s the only thing I’m able to do after the strokes.
“I’m blessed to even be alive,” D’Metayer said. “When I first had the stroke, I ended up in a nursing home. I couldn’t speak at all. I couldn’t move much, or feed myself, or bathe. I was even on diapers. Now I can bathe myself, feed myself and I can speak. My dream now is to walk again one day.”
Since she was 17, she has suffered from severe blood clots, which also claimed the lives of her mother and several other family members. She attended Florida State University and majored in child psychology. But because of the clotting, she was short of credits to graduate and had to move back to Miami. About 15 years later, she attended a local tech school and became a certified nursing assistant. Until the stroke, she served as a medical assistant at University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
D’Metayer has learned how to make the best out of her disabilities. Cooking became her escape.
“It’s the only thing I’m able to do after the strokes,” she said, adding that she misses the hands-on aspect of her former careers. “Before UM, I also used to do plumbing, welding, carpentry and electrical work.”
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday D’Metayer prepares hearty meals for her 27-year-old son, two brothers and two nephews. She enjoys experimenting. On the other days, she tries to bake.
“Tonight? Jamaican food,” she said, chuckling. “Black beans, jerk chicken, white rice. You name it, I can make it. After the stroke I learned how to make fresh bread.”
Sometimes it gets very lonely. I’ve lost all my friends. It would be nice to share time with people; to see the outdoors.
But her new life doesn’t come without heartbreak.
Because her family members have jobs and lead their own lives, she is required to do the grocery shopping. Every Saturday, she waits for an accessible bus that picks her up and drops her off at a nearby Walmart.
“I go in my wheelchair and push a shopping cart with my legs. If something is out of reach, I have to scoot on the ground,” she said. “One day, I fell over and no one helped me.”
D’Metayer said the rejection is not new to her: “Pizza delivery places hang up on me because they can’t understand me. It’s really hard.”
But she won’t let that deter her.
“I feel victorious compared to where I was. But I need help. The holidays are coming and I need help putting the Christmas tree up, wrapping the gifts.” D’Metayer pointed at the chipping paint on her bathroom ceiling: “I also need some help painting. I have the paint. I just can’t reach from the ground.”
But D’Metayer needs even more help. She needs an electric wheelchair, access ramps for her home and grab bars — or an apartment unit accessible to a person with disabilities. She could also use someone to help her around the house for an hour a day.
“I know there’s a plan for me,” she said. “I might not know what it is, but I know there’s a plan.”
▪ How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.