This afternoon I met Micala Webster and her mom at their home in Pawtucketville. Micala is a 17-year-old girl, who my former co-worker Peter Ward wrote about back when she was just 8-years-old.
That’s when she was diagnosed with pineal blastoma, an extremely rare and aggressive type of cancer that attacks the brain and spinal cord.
It took her brain surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment and a bone marrow transplant to do it, but Micala beat that cancer before she even finished fourth grade. Here I am at 33 and I doubt I could do that even now.
Micala, pictured below in a photo taken by Julia Malakie, wasn’t out of the woods, though. The radiation and bone marrow transplant left her with a curved spine, stunted growth, stage 4 heart failure that may someday require a transplant, damaged hearing, kidney stones, gall stones, diabetes, and other ailments.
Micala has kept on living despite those problems too. She told me she takes seven pills in the morning, five in the afternoon, and nine at night.
Her heart condition and curved spine make it exhausting and painful for Micala to walk more than a few dozen yards.
“My back and my hips start to hurt,” she told me.
So Micala, who rarely leaves the house since she’s home-school by her mother, a former teacher, needs a wheelchair whenever she goes out.
Just after her 13th birthday, when she was diagnosed with heart-failure caused by the radiation treatments, Micala got a custom-built wheelchair designed for her small frame.
Doctors measured her and built the chair with a smaller seat to fit her 4’6 frame. The distance from the seat to the foot rests is shorter than usual among other customizations.
So with everything Micala has been through what else happened last week?
Between Sunday night and Monday morning, the 21st and 22nd, someone broke into her mom’s minivan while it was parked in their driveway off West Meadow Road, and stole the wheelchair.
They left the change that was in the car. They didn’t rifle through the glove box.
Cindi Webster had been busy on Sunday and forgot to lock one of the doors. Since the door was unlocked, the family’s insurance won’t cover the loss.
Police have no witnesses or suspects.
Micala and her mom discovered the theft when they went to the grocery store that Monday and went to get the wheelchair out of the minivan.
For Micala, going to the grocery store or the mall is a big deal. She’s out of the house.
She’s now using another wheelchair loaned to the family by an 86-year-old who doesn’t need it right now, but its way too big for her. It’s also heavy. Her mom tried pushing it while pulling a shopping cart the other day and had to give up after browsing three aisles.
“Why did you take it?” Micala said she would ask whoever is responsible. “I hope they bring it back.”
Cindi still works for the Community Christian Academy in Lowell. The school found her work she could do from home at night while Micala is sleeping. Her husband Peter works two jobs, and got home from work while we were talking.
The couple has “great” insurance, but it still only covers about 80 percent of Micala’s medical bills. This family can’t afford a new chair. There’s no room in their budget to start saving up.
And yet Cindi was worried about appearing in the paper like she was asking for donations.
“You can’t have a fundraiser every five minutes,” she told me. She talked about the incredible help people have already given the family.
She just wants Micala’s chair back.
I meet a lot of incredible people in this job. Cops who risk their lives, firefighters who risk their lives, and incredible people of all varieties, but I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who’s been through as much as Micala.
And there she sat on her couch today, playing with her dog and smiling. She told me the family has a saying. “If it’s not brain surgery, it’s not that big of a deal.”
I think this kid is amazing, and I hope she finds her chair.
“I wanted to put a sign in my front lawn that says, ‘I hope you have no legs and really needed the chair because you made my daughter cry,'” Cindi told me. “It’s just pathetic. I just want it back.”
Micala’s wheelchair has a black seat and a silver frame, with “Prax-air” and “Invacare” written on the frame. It had hard, black plastic spokes on the wheels, and the right armrest was cracked.
Anyone with information is asked to call Lowell police at 978-937-3200 or Crimestoppers at 978-459-TIPS (8477). Information can also be sent to police via Text-a-Tip, by texting TIP411 (847411) with the subject “LPDTIP.”
Tipsters can remain anonymous, but can receive up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.