By Adam Hushin
BERLIN – 92-year-old WWII veteran Sofio “Fuzzy” Failla would spend up to three hours a day at the New Britain YMCA, until suffering a stroke last fall.
The stroke left Failla paralyzed on the left side of his body, and confined him to a wheelchair.
Failla, who is a resident of Newington, was on the road to recovery with the goal of getting back to the New Britain YMCA. However, he suffered a cardiac arrest in February, which slowed his rehabilitation.
Since then, Failla has been one of the 4,000 veterans in the state that rely on vans for transportation provided by the Disabled American Veterans organization.
Don Davis, Hospital Service Coordinator for DAV, understands better than anyone how important transportation is for veterans in need.
“In my role I run into veterans who need help every day,” Davis said.
Davis, who is himself a veteran having 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 DAV, Davis is a volunteer.
“We could always use more help,” Davis said. “We are currently looking for van drivers to volunteer one or two days a week in the mornings.”
While the DAV does all they can for veterans in need, it can still be a struggle for people like Failla.
Lynn Higgins, Failla’s daughter, has spent months trying to overcome these struggles.
“Even at 90 he used to just get in his car and go,” Higgins said about her father. “One time we waited almost two hours for a ride.”
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.
“We could’ve turned around and sold it,” Meucci said.
Instead, Meucci reached out to Don Davis and the DAV.
According to Meucci, the DAV at first turned him down, saying that there are regulations that would prevent them from being able to take the vehicle.
That’s when Davis offered an alternative solution: gift the van to Failla.
“This is how this guy works,” Higgins said about Davis. “Don made it all happen.”
The plan was set; the van would be presented to Failla on the Fourth of July.
“This has given him the opportunity to get his life back again,” Higgins said.
Davis echoed that sentiment. “It’s going to change his life.”
After presenting the van to Failla, Meucci hopes to be able to do more.
“I met that man in person, he’s absolutely fantastic,” 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.
“Hopefully D&L can do something like this again,” Meucci said. “This is something hopefully other companies see and try to be a part of.”
Now Failla’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 https://www.dav.org/.
Adam Hushin can be reached at 860-801-5046 or firstname.lastname@example.org.