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Frank Gray

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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Suellen Groves, center, of Melbourne, Australia, enjoyed a TinCaps game Monday with Angela King, left, and Lucy Chea, her aide. King’s Leo business helped Groves when her ventilator failed on a 2011 visit to Boston.

Local aid makes global friend

Is it the ultimate example of customer loyalty, or just an excuse to take a trip?

People will have to decide for themselves, but the tale of Angela King and her Australian visitor is a curious one regardless.

The story started about two years ago, when Suellen Groves of Melbourne, Australia, decided to take a trip and see Boston and New York. What made the trip unusual is that Groves suffers from something called spinal muscle atrophy. She’s never been able to walk and has used a wheelchair for the last 26 years. She can only move her head and the fingers on her right hand, and she relies on a ventilator to breathe.

Still, once a year, Groves takes a trip – somewhere.

In 2011, though, Groves ran into a near disaster. While she was in Boston, her ventilator failed, leaving her in a foreign country with no insurance and seemingly nowhere to turn.

Groves, though, was traveling with her sister, who turned to the Internet to try to find a solution to the crisis.

She found a little business, called Mobile Medical Maintenance, based in Leo. Angela King, one of the owners, travels around mostly the Midwest, teaching family members of people on ventilators how to operate the machinery. The company has offices all around the country that repair ventilators, and King’s husband, Dominick McCann, travels all over the country repairing the machines.

King and her husband managed to save the day by having the man in their Baltimore office travel to New York to get a spare ventilator from another client and deliver the machine to Groves in Boston, all gratis.

Groves was even allowed to take the machine back to Australia with her, with the understanding she would ship it back when she got home – a risky arrangement, because the machines are worth a bundle. But everyone held up their part of the deal.

Groves was grateful and invited King and her husband to visit anytime, so last year they did. They, in turn, told Groves she’d always be welcome to visit them, too.

So about two weeks ago, Groves, accompanied by an aide, flew from Australia to Los Angeles and caught a train to Waterloo.

She has spent nearly two weeks with King and her husband, taking in everything there is to see in these parts, from Chicago museums to the Toledo Zoo, a TinCaps game and the American Indian museum in Indianapolis, among others.

“It’s amazing, all this stuff that we never do” that they discovered during Groves’ visit.

What is equally amazing, King says, is that Groves, despite her disability, can travel the world. It’s a good lesson for others with the same condition (there are several people in Fort Wayne), showing that “they can get out in the world and do things and be part of the world.”

Groves will be leaving the area early Monday morning, catching a train to go to New York and see Times Square and then on to Niagara Falls. Then she’ll take the train back to Los Angeles and catch a plane home.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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