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Supporters rally around patient who needs them

IF YOU'RE having a bad day today, if the world seems cruel and you wonder if people even care about each other anymore, maybe you should talk to Steve Becker.

Regular visitors to this space may remember Becker, because when you hear his story, it tends to stay with you for a while.

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Becker lies in a bed on the third floor of University Specialty Hospital downtown with serious complications caused by rickets, a childhood disease that results in the softening and weakening of the bones.

His joints are also riddled with painful arthritis. And since an operation two years ago to remove calcifications in his neck around the spinal column, he's been paralyzed from the neck down, except for a little movement in his right arm and hand.

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If all that isn't enough, the 54-year-old Parkville man has also endured seizures, pneumonia, tracheotomies and bed sores the size of manhole covers.

Still think you're having a bad day?

Admit it: Your life is a month on the French Riviera compared to this man's.

Anyway, in a column last month, we reported that some of Steve's friends were trying to raise money for a special hospital bed - called an air-fluidized therapy bed - that would do much to relieve his suffering.

The bed costs $52,000, which is an absolutely ridiculous amount for such a thing. At that price, it better come with a 3.5-liter engine, leather bucket seats and a killer sound system.

But here is the part that should make your heart soar: Since that column appeared, readers have responded by contributing more than $62,000 to a fund for Steve Becker.

At a benefit concert for him at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Govans, starring renowned pianist Father Paul Maillet, a standing-room-only crowd of 600 donated more than $20,000 in one night alone.

And with the $14,000 that had already been raised by the Catholic Men's Fellowship - Becker is a devout Catholic - he now has more than $77,000 to use for a bed and other medical expenses.

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So whenever you start thinking the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and people are just so heartless and indifferent to the suffering of others, remember this story.

"The people who responded - and continue to respond - have been phenomenal," said Bernie Antkowiak, co-chair of the Friends of Steve Becker committee. "It restores your faith in human nature."

The other day, I went over to visit Steve in the hospital to find out how he was doing.

He was doing a heck of a lot better than he was the last time I saw him, when he'd been up all night with nausea due to the massive amounts of painkillers they were pumping into him.

When I brought up the tremendous outpouring of love and support he'd received - the donations have come not just from Maryland, but from Texas, Ohio, Virginia and all over - he smiled and shook his head.

"I have to give it to the people, all the people who came out of the woodwork, for all they've done for me," he said. "I thank them all. It brings me such joy."

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Becker said that as the envelopes and checks poured in last month, he received daily updates from his friends on how close they were to their goal of $52,000.

"It was so exciting," he said. "It was almost like you were running for president and the campaign manager is saying: 'We took Wisconsin! We only need three more votes to win!' "

In a cabinet near his bed were two huge stacks of mail, more than 700 letters and postcards in all.

"One day, they [brought in] 213 letters," he said.

With his permission, I went through some of them. If you could read them, you would never again doubt the innate goodness of people, or their boundless compassion.

The most touching letters came from others who were getting cuffed around in life: a woman wracked with pain from rheumatoid arthritis, a man taking care of a wife with multiple sclerosis, another woman whose husband had a stroke four years ago and is now bedridden.

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The Susquehanna Hose Company in Havre de Grace sent a very nice letter - and a generous donation.

The volunteer firefighters had read that whenever Becker looked out his hospital window and saw the MedEvac helicopters making their way to the nearby Maryland Shock Trauma Center, he prayed for the victims on board.

"Please thank Mr. Becker for his prayers ... and let him know that in the future, we will remember him when we load the MedEvac," wrote firefighter Paul W. Ishak.

Life is still no day at the beach for Steve Becker, and it probably won't be for a long time.

Three weeks ago, they rushed him to Maryland General with a 106-degree fever. He was shaking uncontrollably, his body lapsing into septic shock.

"I should have died - literally," he said softly. "My brain should have fried. I know God definitely intervened and totally healed me from that."

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But since then, even though the pain of arthritis is constantly with him, he's been free of infections.

Which means, Becker said: "I've been feeling pretty good. Halfway decent ... I want to thank all the people here at University Specialty Hospital that take good care of me."

Now, to the matter of this special bed that Steve Becker needs.

At the moment, because he still has bedsores, his insurance will pay for the rental of an air-fluidized bed. So he's currently in one at University Specialty Hospital.

But once the bedsores are gone, he'll be required to go back to a regular hospital bed, which plays havoc with his joint pain. And that's when the Friends of Steve Becker plan to step in and buy him his own special bed.

When I left him the other day, Becker was getting more good news. A nurse came by to tell him the wound from his recent tracheotomy was healing well.

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It was nice to see him in a good mood. When I told him this, he nodded.

"It's important for every single person alive to know that there's somebody out there who needs them," Steve Becker said. "It might be someone in a nursing home, or in a hospital, or maybe in a funeral home. Someone who needs you to be there."

A whole lot of people were there for Steve Becker, that's for sure.

And that's the best part of his story.


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