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Air conditioner donation was ‘matter of life or death’ for North Liberty family

REAL Services is northern Indiana’s resource for people working to become independent or stay independent, at any age. Find a REAL Services office near you today.

By: REAL Services + Home Comfort Experts

For most families, a broken air conditioner is an uncomfortable inconvenience. For the O’Connor family in North Liberty, it’s a medical emergency.

That’s because Daniel O’Connor, 23, can’t breathe when the air starts to creep into the upper 70s and into the 80s, and then he starts to get sick. He has Cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder and chronic respiratory failure that causes him to need a trach in order to breathe and a feeding tube to eat. He’s on oxygen and receives breathing treatments regularly.

Daniel lives with his parents and his mother, Sherry O’Connor, is his main caretaker. She keeps antibiotics on hand at home because when Daniel gets sick, he can’t wait for a doctor appointment to get the medicine he needs.

“When he gets sick, he goes really fast,” Sherry said. “I have to determine whether he needs an antibiotic, and then I give the doctor a call and let him know.”

The O’Connors’ air conditioner stopped working in September, and though it was insured through NIPSCO, it was too old to be repaired. They couldn’t afford to get a new one.

Sherry hung blankets and curtains in Daniel’s bedroom to keep the sun and heat out. She borrowed a window air conditioning unit from one of Daniel’s nurses and an industrial-sized fan from another friend. That kept the living room cool, so Daniel spent most of his time there.

Then September and October saw unseasonably warm temperatures, sometimes reaching into the 90s, and Daniel ended up getting sick.

“He was on 5 liters of oxygen, and that’s as high as the oxygen goes. We almost took him to the hospital a couple times, but we worked through it and gave him a lot of breathing treatments,” Sherry said. He received anywhere from 12 to 18 breathing treatments in a day while he was sick.

Sherry would take Daniel to his bedroom after 11 p.m., when it was cool, and then make sure he was back in the living room before it got too warm in the morning.

Eventually, the weather cooled and winter came, giving Daniel some respite and Sherry some peace of mind. When spring arrived, Sherry knew she had to do something to get a new central air conditioning unit for their home.

She reached out to REAL Services, an organization that helps aging, disabled and low-income people in northern Indiana. They had installed a wheelchair ramp for Daniel before the air conditioner broke, and Sherry hoped they could help again.

REAL Services started reaching out to various private foundations and community service organizations to see if there was available funding to help the O’Connors.

“A lot of the challenge was that many foundations have to show a widespread need being covered, not helping an individual client,” said Judy Jankowski, Director of Development for REAL Services.

After getting rejected by more than a half dozen organizations, Jankowski reached out to one of REAL Services’ sponsors, Home Comfort Experts.

It was an easy decision for the owners of the company.

“The owners of the company, they live here in this area and they’re very dedicated to the community,” Amanda Petrucelli, director of marketing for Home Comfort Experts, said. “Home Comfort Experts does a lot of behind-the-scenes work like this that we don’t necessarily tell people that we’re doing.

“You don’t do this for the attention. You do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

Home Comfort Experts partners with REAL Services because the two organizations share a similar mission: to keep people comfortable in their homes for as long as possible.

“We live in a region where everyone has to have a furnace,” Petrucelli said. “In this situation, Daniel has to have air conditioning. It’s a matter of life or death.”

Sherry O’Connor poses with the new air conditioning unit that Home Comfort Experts donated and installed to help her son Daniel breathe easier at home. (Photo Supplied/Home Comfort Experts)

Home Comfort Experts began the process of a new air conditioner installation, just like they would with any customer. A project manager visited the O’Connors’ home to see what their individual need was. A customer service representative came by in June to install the brand-new unit, which is guaranteed and under warranty.

“They also put in a new thermostat and installed a platform for the air conditioning unit to sit on,” Sherry said. “The guy that installed it was really polite. I’m so grateful for what they’ve done.”

Now Daniel can breathe easier and spend time in his own room and throughout the O’Connor home, without the fear of getting sick from air that is too warm for his lungs. Daniel also needs less breathing treatments throughout the day now, thanks to the new air conditioning unit.

“I don’t know what we would have done if it wasn’t for Home Comfort Experts,” Sherry said. “I’m so thankful that they did that for Daniel.”

REAL Services is dedicated to helping people become or stay independent, at any age. Do you need help? Call 574-233-8205 or toll-free at 800-552-2916.

REAL Services is proudly supported by Home Comfort Experts. All In For Alzheimer’s.



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