Dearborn man gets by with a little help from his friends

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Framed photos line the walls of Bob Trumble’s small ranch in Dearborn, an indication of not just his photography skills but his many travels all over the world.

There are pictures from France, Brazil, Mexico and Croatia. In his kitchen hangs an exterior shot of the famed opera house in Paris that Trumble’s Dad, who also liked photography, took along with a photo Bob shot years later of its interior.

“And that’s a picture of me when I was 5,” says Bob, 67, a retired teacher, gesturing to a small black-and-white photo of his smiling face, tucked into the corner of the frame of the opera house photo.

Bob Trumble of Dearborn meets with a group of friends every Wednesday to brainstorm ways to help him pay medical bills so he can stay in his home. Many of them have known each other since elementary school.

These days, travel is sadly out of the question for Bob. Six years ago, an accident in the U.S. Virgin Islands dramatically changed his life forever, leaving him wheelchair-bound. Transportation of any kind, let alone travel, is a challenge. Even just going to the dentist or physical therapy appointments requires a handicap-accessible bus service.

Bob was on a trip to the islands in 2013 when he slipped, lost consciousness and wasn’t found for several hours. He bent his spine at a critical angle and now has no use of his legs and limited mobility in his arms. He relies on a motorized wheelchair to get around and in-home caregivers to prepare his food, help him bathe and dress and with other tasks.

But his bills are piling up. Even though the retired Dearborn Schools teacher has insurance and gets disability, he pays out of pocket for his in-home care and he’s drained his savings. He makes too much to qualify for Medicaid.

There’s been one upside to Bob’s ordeal. It’s brought together a group of friends, many of whom Bob has known since elementary school, who are rallying around their friend to help him in any way they can.

Since July, the group has met weekly — usually at Bob’s house — to brainstorm ideas about how to help Bob raise funds to pay his medical bills. They held a photography sale in November, selling some of Bob’s images, and they’ve set up a GoFundMe page. Now they’re reaching out to lawmakers, trying to find a way to help their friend and keep him in his home.

“For the grace of God, it could be any one of us,” said Kim Sulek, a friend of Bob’s from Northville. The way Bob’s care is structured now “it’s not sustainable. Can we do something bigger?”

Francine Melotti, a childhood friend who grew up across the street from Bob and now lives in Oxford, recently reached out to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell’s office for help. She says the fact that Bob is paying out of pocket for home care given his level of need isn’t right.

“Health care (insurance) should pick it up and it doesn’t,” said Lynn. “There’s this gap.”

Bob lives in his childhood home that his parents bought in 1957. In an odd twist, his father had muscular dystrophy so the house was already modified with a ramp and Bob was his parents’ caregiver. 

But now it’s Bob who needs round the clock help. To pay for the aides who come to his home, he took out a reverse mortgage on his home. He now he faces thousands of dollars in caregiver bills. 

“If I don’t pay my next bills in time, they’ll discontinue my service,” said Bob, who said he doesn’t qualify for the lifetime care that those who’ve been catastrophic car accidents get under Michigan’s no-fault laws.

But his friends — several of whom also worked for Dearborn schools — will keep rallying around Bob to help in any way they can. They’ve reached out to lawyers, volunteer caregivers and Neighborhood Services. And why? Because that’s what good friends do.

“We are just friends trying to help,” said Wendy Sample.