LOWELL —Crystal Sullivan pulled into the parking lot of the Mount Pleasant Golf Club Tuesday evening with her husband and their two teenage children.
She stepped out of their gray Toyota Camry and walked over to pull a wheelchair out of the trunk. Her husband, Shane, waited in the passenger seat.
Their son Ian helped set up the chair and walked over to the passenger door. Shane, trembling slightly, clasped his hands around Ian’s neck so he could be lifted onto the seat.
“You want to get your seatbelt on, Shane?” Crystal asked her husband. She then bent forward to help him secure it around his waist.
The ease in which the family worked together comes from routine. Shane, 47, has multiple sclerosis and is no longer as mobile as he used to be. In MS, nerve damage disrupts communication between the brain and the body. Symptoms include vision loss, fatigue, and impaired coordination. The cause is unknown.
Since Shane’s MS diagnosis in September 2012, the Dracut family of four — Shane, Crystal, 48, Ian, 17, and Audrey, 14 — has had to navigate many challenges. They’ve had the support of relatives and friends through the years, and on Tuesday they were going to receive even more help: a check from Owl Diner Charities.
Shane is this year’s beneficiary of the organization’s 28th annual Golf Classic, which took place last month.
For Crystal, the support from Owl Diner Charities has been overwhelming. She didn’t yet know the amount, but said the family plans on using the money to try to make the bathroom in their ranch-style home more accessible for Shane.
“When this came about, I was a little hesitant because there are a lot of people who need help, and I get that,” Crystal said. “We’re so grateful and it’s really going to make a difference for Shane’s day-to-day safety and functionalities in the house.”
Shane refuses to let MS get him down.
“Sure, I was diagnosed with a disease, but what am I going to complain about and bring my family down? No,” he said.
Inside the golf club, Shane was greeted by members of the Owl Diner Charities’ board of directors. The former Realtor thanked them for their generosity and support.
Owl Diner co-owner Tom Shanahan said money is raised through sponsorships and all of it goes to the family.
“It’s amazing to see him smiling, knowing something good’s gonna happen,” Shanahan said. “And it’s gonna take a lot of pressure off his wife, too. You want to see people happy. You don’t want to see people suffering.”
Before Shane’s diagnosis, there were signs that something was off. Crystal said her husband began having pain in his lower back while renovating their daughter’s room. A visit to a chiropractor didn’t help.
The pain wouldn’t subside and Shane was brought to Lowell General Hospital for a series of tests.
The diagnosis came as a shock to the close-knit family.
“It took me out of the game, but I had to just reel it all in,” Shane recalled. “I just tried to deal with it. I’ve got my beautiful wife right here and she’s going to tell me how it is.”
Crystal remembered feeling sad. Then, relief.
“We didn’t know what it was, you know,” she said. “We didn’t know what was wrong with Dad.”
And now they did.
Shane’s mother, Noella C. Sullivan, said it’s been hard to watch the change over the years. She helps care for him Monday through Thursday.
“It’s part of being a mother. It’s a killer. Some days I have tears. I have to run out of the room,” said Sullivan, 69, of Pelham. “Depends on his day.”
She held back tears. Caring for her son is long and tough, Sullivan said.
“But it’s a joy for me,” she said. “I’m bonding with my son everyday. I’m enjoying every moment with him, that I can.”
Ian said the family isn’t missing out on his father because he’s the same guy: amazing. “He’s just a little bit more stubborn, can be a little bit more irritable because he has so many things to deal with,” Ian said. “We can’t blame him for that.”
Shane said the support from his family has been unbelievable.
“They’re there for me whenever I need something, and it’s awesome that I don’t really have to go out on a limb and ask for it,” he said. “They’re right there, big-time.”
Shane sat at a round table between his wife and son. Ian walked to a nearby table to retrieve a knife and fork. Crystal cut Shane’s pizza slice into pieces so he can eat. Multiple sclerosis makes swallowing more difficult.
His mother, daughter, and younger sister, Noella Ann Rourke, also sat with him. The younger Noella brought Shane a ginger ale. They talked and laughed over refreshments.
It was soon time for the check presentation. Butch Frediani, vice president of the Owl Diner Charities’ board of directors, spoke first. He said it was a great tournament last month and hopes things work out for Shane.
Crystal stood up and wheeled her husband to where the board of directors gathered. Jim Haley, treasurer, tilted an oversized cardboard check so Shane could see.
Shane’s eyes widened.
The amount: $27,000.
“Oh wow!” said Crystal, leaning forward to study the check. She stood up and looked over at her family, in shock.
“Holy moly,” Shane said.
Shane thanked the organization.
A few minutes later, it was still hard to grasp.
“Oh goodness. Oh my God,” Shane said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Crystal smiled at her husband.
“More than you expected?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Way more.”
Amaris Castillo: @AmarisCastillo on Twitter