Friday, March 26, 2021

(Real) Real Housewives of SLC - Traci

If you live or pass through Herriman Utah, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Corey. And if you’ve seen Corey, there’s a good chance it’s made you nervous. 

To be clear, it’s not Corey himself that will make you nervous. Corey is kind, respectful and soft spoken. But those who see him crossing the road worry for his safety, and for good reason. 

Corey is confined to a manual wheelchair that he pushes along with his feet. His errands, which are the highlight of his daily routine, require him to cross the Mountain View Corridor, a busy highway through which cars pass at an upwards of 70 miles per hour. The time it takes him to scoot his way across the intersection is perilously close to the time it takes the signal to turn from red to green. 

Passersby who notice Corey frequently pull over out of concern, offering to push or give him a ride, but he always respectfully declines.

“Guys, the wheelchair guy has been seen both yesterday and today,” wrote one member of the community Facebook group Herriman Happenings, in February. “He was pushing himself down three inches of snow on the sidewalk and snow blowing sideways. What the heck?” 

Respondents to the post had compassion, but were quick to point out that attempts to assist him had been rebuffed. 

“He does not want help” said one member, “It has been offered many times and he says no.”

“He won’t take help,” said another. “I think he just wants to be left alone.” 

Traci Paoli, a Herriman resident and mother of two, was scrolling Facebook when she came across the post. She had also noticed Corey crossing the street and felt helpless to assist him.  Reading through the thread, it seemed that offering help was pointless. But instead of feeling discouraged, it made her determined.  

“So many people really had tried their best,” she says. “But no one is beyond help.”

This is a lesson Traci has learned firsthand. 

It's been said that challenges come in threes, and if that’s true Traci’s trio began in January of 2013, when her daughter was hospitalized for RSV. After a week long stay they were relieved to return home, when her son also became suddenly ill. What first appeared to be an upset stomach turned out to be a Little League football injury to his abdomen that resulted in a harrowing 28-day hospitalization, including three stomach surgeries and a week in the PICU. 

Grateful that both children recovered fully, the family was barely able to catch their breath when Traci was diagnosed with breast cancer. The year that followed was agonizing, as she faced an uncertain future, along with chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. 

“I know what it’s like to need help,” she says, “but I wasn’t very good at accepting it.” 

Now a seven-year survivor, she has learned to not take no for an answer, and her heart immediately went out to Corey. 

Traci began to ask questions, which led her to connect with other women who had begun the process of seeking help. “She truly took the bull by the horns,” one of them said. “We knew our goals were ambitious, but Traci reached for the stars.” 

While recovering from double foot surgeries, she spent hours on the phone, reaching out to Corey’s mother, who is also in a wheelchair, to asses his specific needs. She also contacted Cypress Credit Union for help soliciting donations, and lobbied Herriman and Riverton cities for greater measures to ensure his safety. 

Then, she said, “Help just seemed to come from the heavens.” An employee of Cypress offered to visit Corey and his mother in their home to assist with paperwork. A representative of National Seating Mobility with twenty years experience also offered in-home help. Harmons Grocery, where Corey shops daily, assembled his favorite products as a gift. A new winter coat was donated, and gloves, and shoes. Another had a custom flag made for his wheelchair to alert traffic to his crossing. 

“It goes to show that people really did want to help,” says Traci. "They just didn’t have the right opportunity.” 

Within a matter of weeks, over $4,000 was contributed, enough to purchase a new, safer wheelchair custom made to Corey’s specifications. His aunt, Colleen Blackburn, says, “To hear that people see him and want to help makes my heart glad. God does answer prayers.” 

When asked about the impact she has had on Corey, Traci is quick to deflect attention away from herself, and shine the spotlight on others who made the effort possible. 

“I grew up in Utah," she says, "so I’ve always known that good, friendly people live here. But I don’t think I ever realized how good or how friendly until this experience.” 

This is how we do it here. 

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