Aid and a Bed : Plight of a Quadriplegic Injured in Fire Touches Strangers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Though bad luck has followed John Wise for the last five years, he said friends and family have always been around to offset the losses.

While trail riding in 1985, the 6-foot, 230-pound Wise broke his neck when he lost control of his motorcycle. Losing the use of his arms and legs, Wise, a carpenter, also lost his livelihood.

Friends from the Norwalk neighborhood where he has lived for more than 20 years came to his aid, doling out comfort, lending money to cover medical expenses and donating furniture to fill the modest three-bedroom home he shares with his mother and sister.

Earlier this week, the house was gutted by fire.

Again, friends were there to help the family. But this time, strangers who have learned of the family's plight also have offered aid.

Doctors treating the 31-year-old quadriplegic for smoke inhalation have established an emergency aid fund to absorb some of the $130,000 in damage caused by the fire. Wise's mother, Donna, escaped from the home without injury.

"This is the first time I've done anything like this," said Dr. Ron Lapin, one of the physicians at Coast Plaza Medical Center in Norwalk who organized the fund. "I was just touched by his story. He and his family seemed to have had all the bad luck in the world."

Lapin said the fund was announced on a television news broadcast Tuesday evening and within 15 minutes operators at the hospital received several dozen calls. By Thursday evening, about 200 callers had pledged money, furnishings and offered lodging until the family's home is restored. Several medical supply companies offered to replace Wise's reclining wheelchair, electric bed and small crane, which lifts him from bed to wheelchair.

"I tell you, it restores your faith in people," Lapin said.

Wise also recognized the support of his friends.

"My sister's baby just turned 1," Wise said Thursday from his hospital bed. "The fire melted his highchair and most of his toys."

A neighbor immediately gave his sister, Stephanie, 20, $40 to purchase supplies for the infant.

"They saw the melted baby bottles and told her to buy new ones," he said.

The fire in the single-story, wood-frame house on Graystone Avenue may have been caused by a lit cigarette that was discarded accidentally in a kitchen wastebasket, Los Angeles County Fire Investigation Unit Capt. Stan Hook said.

Hospital administrators are trying to arrange for Wise to be moved today to Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, which has facilities to care for quadriplegics, said David Watkins, a spokesman for Coast Plaza Medical Center.

Stephanie Wise and her mother, Donna, have been staying in a local motel, paid for with Red Cross emergency assistance vouchers. A neighbor has offered to let them use his mobile home until they can find long-term shelter while their house is being repaired.

Donations to the John Wise Fire Fund can be sent care of American Commerce National Bank, 3800 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, Calif. 92807. For information call (800) 662-5663.

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