Debt repaid to ailing veteran

Hazel Dell man's home gets makeover after he's diagnosed with ALS

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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photoHome Depot volunteers work on military veteran Clyde Kment’s driveway Tuesday. Kment received a home renovation as part of a Home Depot project to benefit veterans.

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photoVeteran Clyde Kment has owned his house with his wife, Fujiko, since 1968. Volunteers from Home Depot are helping ensure he can stay in it for as long as possible.

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At any one time in Oregon and Southwest Washington, about 475 people are living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, said Lance Christian, executive director of the ALS Association’s regional chapter.

Contact the chapter at 800-681-9851 or ALS Association.

Clyde Kment was rototilling in his garden five months ago when he noticed a pain in his back.

He got the diagnosis in August: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"There is no definitive test," Kment said. "It's a process of ruling things out. If it's not this or that, it's got to be ALS."

Kment has been losing mobility, and he knows his rototilling days are done. Kment now is using a walker to get around his place.

"I recognize how quickly this is getting me," he said. "I turned 71, and you know your body pretty damned well by then."

Kment explained how this hasn't matched the usual cycle of getting sick or injured or sore, and then getting better: "This is a new experience. It's a one-way street."

But Kment doesn't want to leave the Hazel Dell home he and his wife, Fujiko, have owned since 1968. And this week, about 40 volunteers are working on that.

The project is supported by Home Depot, in partnership with the ALS Association of Oregon and SW Washington. It's part of Home Depot's national "Celebration of Service" campaign, said team captain John Ross, who is manager of the Tigard, Ore., store.

"The focus is on veterans and their housing needs," said Ross.

Kment is one of four veterans in the Portland-Vancouver area who got home remodels last week. About 160 volunteers took part.

Rip-it-up day

More than a dozen people were at the Kments' home on Tuesday, when the focus was on ripping stuff up -- inside and outside the house. That set the stage for the remodel, when about 40 people showed up Wednesday to start putting things back together.

A lot of the work is aimed at making the split-level house more wheelchair friendly, said Robert Tilton, manager of the Vancouver Home Depot on Andresen Road. The gravel driveway is being replaced by pavers that offer better traction for a motorized wheelchair. It's the same story inside, where carpet was replaced by hard-surface flooring.

A wheelchair ramp will make it easier to get into the house, and wider door frames will improve access.

Kment is a gardener, Ross said, so a raised garden bed was also part of the project.

Those are the sort of accommodations that can make it easier to live with ALS, since that is the only response to the disease.

"ALS is a progressive and paralyzing disease. There is no cure, no way to slow it," said Lance Christian, executive director of the regional ALS Association chapter. "It steals your ability to walk and to use your hands, and eventually to breathe and swallow.

"From diagnosis to end of life is from two to four years. Managing it means making changes in the early years in how you can accomplish everyday tasks," Christian said. "The idea is to make the home as functional as possible, so someone can live each day to the fullest."

The nonprofit Home Depot Foundation provided a $23,000 grant toward the four Vancouver/Portland remodels, said Geoff Carter, manager of the Longview store.

That doesn't include the materials donated by other local retailers, and the labor provided by Home Depot volunteers and subcontractors who work with the company.

Higher risk for vets

Military veterans have a 60 percent higher risk of dying from the disease, according to studies cited by the ALS Association; it doesn't seem to matter whether they served in a war or went overseas.

Kment spent about 20 years in the Army in two stints -- the first from 1960 to 1962. After he was out for six month, Kment decided to re-enlist. He served from 1963 to 1980, including a tour in Vietnam as adviser to a South Vietnamese unit in the central highlands. He also was a stateside recruiter and served at several radar and communication sites across the Pacific.

Clyde and Fujiko saw a lot of the world in that time, and the house in Hazel Dell is where they want to stay. Now it looks like they will.

"When I leave," Kment said, "I'll be carried out on a gurney."

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.