Saratoga County

Ballston Lake family helps get mom back on the water following debilitating stroke

A view of the new chairlift for Laura VanDerwerker, installed by her family at her home on Westside Drive overlooking the southern end of Ballston Lake.
A view of the new chairlift for Laura VanDerwerker, installed by her family at her home on Westside Drive overlooking the southern end of Ballston Lake.

BALLSTON LAKE — Nothing could keep 76-year-old Ballston Lake resident Laura VanDerwerker off the lake, not even a stroke she suffered last year.

Her family has tirelessly helped with her recovery, followed by a herculean effort to get her back on the family’s pontoon boat and her almost daily cruises on the lake with her husband, Joe, 78.

“We used to go and do cruises in the late afternoon [or] evening with friends, Joe VanDerwerker said. “She always loved being in the boat.”

Laura suffered a stroke last year in Florida, and Joe arranged to have her transported in an RV with two EMTs on board to Wesley Health Care Center in Saratoga Springs for six months of rehabilitation.

The stroke was caused by a brain bleed. It left her unable to move her right side and unable to verbalize naturally, while also limiting her mobility.

She returned home on Sept. 10 of 2019.

Until this month, her view of the lake was limited to what she could see from their home on Westside Drive in Ballston Lake.

“We have a screened-in porch that she used to spend a lot time out there,” he said. “I get her to go out there and then we go out on the deck.

“We spend most of the good days outside on the deck overlooking the lake. Its something that she has always enjoyed doing.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura took part in the adult health day care program at Schuyler Ridge in Clifton Park. She has not been at the facility since March.

“We’ve just been sitting here twiddling our thumbs,” VanDerwerker said.

He wanted to find a way to bring more normalcy into Laura’s life, and found a workaround to get her back on their floating afternoon cruises.

“We were able to get her on the boat by going up a few houses,” he explained. “They have a boat ramp for cars, and we could get her in the wheelchair over there to their dock and then put her on our pontoon boat from their dock.

“That required me to have two people with me at all times.”

That reduced the number of times the couple could take in the sunsets on Ballston Lake.

“I decided if we could get a lift in here then her and I could do it. We could just go out when we wanted to,” Joe said.

His idea also came with a big price tag.

“I wanted one that a wheelchair would fit on and go up and down,” he said. “The first and only estimate I got was $30,000 to put in.

“Needless to say, we didn’t do that.”

With the help of his son, daughter and grandchildren, VanDerwerker was able to come up with an affordable alternative.

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“My son David is a mechanical engineer and he has done a lot of house construction,” he said. “I used to do that before I was retired, in the summertime.

“I would do house construction and I started him in it. He’s still doing that partially, so he knows what’s going on.”

With their skill set, the family was able to install a chairlift on the outside stairwell — allowing Laura to be transported to the dock and then onto the family boat — all for $4,000.

“[David] was the one that came up with the idea about just taking the stairwell rails off and putting a beam down that the track could go on,” VanDerwerker said. “My daughter, JoAnne, and my grandkids came over and they helped under his supervision.”

The project was completed in a weekend, and once again Laura was able to set sail with Joe in the afternoon.

“We’ve gone out every day that it’s nice,” Joe said. “It’s working out OK.”

With a reasonable investment the goal was accomplished, and Joe is willing to compromise on the limits of the lift.

“It is a struggle for me physically because I have to pick her up out of the chair, move her and rotate her,” he said. “[But] this works and it works good.”

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