NEWINGTON - Sofio â€śFuzzyâ€ť Failla, a 92-year-old World War II veteran and Newington resident, would spend up to three hours a day at the New Britain YMCA, until he suffered a stroke last fall.
The stroke left Failla paralyzed on his left side and confined him to a wheelchair.
Failla was on the road to recovery with the goal of getting back to the YMCA. However, he suffered a heart attack in February, which slowed his rehabilitation.
Since then, Failla has been one of the 4,000 veterans in the state who rely on vans for transportation provided by the Disabled American Veterans.
Don Davis, Hospital Service Coordinator for the DAV, understands better than anyone how important transportation is for veterans in need.
â€śIn my role I run into veterans who need help every day,â€ť Davis said.
Davis, who served with the Marines in Vietnam, helps organize transportation as part of his job. Like all of the drivers and most of the employees at the DAV, he is a volunteer.
â€śWe could always use more help,â€ť Davis said. â€śWe are currently looking for van drivers to volunteer one or two days a week in the mornings.â€ť
While the DAV does all it can for veterans, it can still be a struggle for people like Failla.
Lynn Higgins, Faillaâ€™s daughter, has spent months trying to overcome these struggles.
â€śEven at 90 he used to just get in his car and go,â€ť Higgins said. â€śOne time we waited almost two hours for a ride.â€ť
After months of dealing with a lack of freedom and mobility, a Berlin company appeared with a solution.
John Meucci, manager of D&L Auto Body and Towing LLC, had acquired a specially designed handicap accessible van.
â€śWe couldâ€™ve turned around and sold it,â€ť Meucci said.
Instead, Meucci reached out to Don Davis and the DAV.
According to Meucci, the DAV at first turned him down, saying there are regulations that would prevent them from taking the vehicle.
Thatâ€™s when Davis offered an alternative solution: gift the van to Failla.
â€śThis is how this guy works,â€ť Higgins said about Davis. â€śDon made it all happen.â€ť
The plan was set; the van would be presented to Failla on the Fourth of July.
â€śThis has given him the opportunity to get his life back again,â€ť Higgins said.
Davis echoed that sentiment. â€śItâ€™s going to change his life.â€ť
After presenting the van to Failla, Meucci hopes to be able to do more.
â€śI met that man in person, heâ€™s absolutely fantastic,â€ť Meucci said.
Meucci is a member of Towing & Recovery Professionals of Connecticut, an organization that brings together towing companies from around the state to discuss the trade, and find ways to improve their business and their communities. He plans to bring this story up at the next meeting, and urge other companies to do something similar.
â€śHopefully D&L can do something like this again,â€ť Meucci said. â€śThis is something hopefully other companies see and try to be a part of.â€ť
Now Faillaâ€™s road to recovery, and a return to the New Britain YMCA will include a lot less waiting for rides.
To find out how you can help veterans like Failla, you can visit the DAV website at dav.org.
Adam Hushin can be reached at 860-801-5046 or email@example.com.