VILONIA — Steven and Kendra Suttles and their two children, Phillip, 5, and Lilly, 3, live in an older mobile home near Vilonia. The walls serve as a showcase for paintings. Some were painted by the couple. Others are the work of their children.
The inside looks tidy and neat. However, there are hidden concerns. Portions of the flooring throughout the house is buckled. The kitchen has gaping holes, most of which are disguised with make-shift patches and carpeting. Where the family sleeps, on mattresses, a bedroom floor appears sound. However, the floor surrounding the commode and tub, located nearby, shows signs of needing repairs. Yet, a chair for bathing Lilly sits in the cracked tub. In spite of the damage, the Suttles said they feel fortunate and blessed.
"We are happy. At the same time, we are in constant worry," Steven Suttles said. "I’m supposed to take care of my family. I am doing all I can do but it’s not enough. This trailer is not going to last, and I don’t know what I’m going to do then."
The couple as well as the two children has health issues. He draws a modest monthly disability check. She doesn’t but she has been diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder and she is hearing impaired. The couple said they are able to cope with their problems. It’s the needs of their children that worry them — especially the 3-year-old daughter who suffers with Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder. She can’t walk, talk or feed herself.
Her food has to be pureed and she has to be diapered. Because of respiratory problems, she must be monitored around the clock. Also, her seizures generally come while she is sleeping. Mrs. Suttles takes the night shift constantly on duty watching while her daughter sleeps. Although she attends a day school, Mr. Suttles provides the muscle toting his daughter around the house and helping with the day-to-day activity. As well as transporting her back and forth to weekly doctor visits.
"Right now, I carry her everywhere but she’s fixing to be in a wheelchair," Mr. Suttles said.
The couple boasts about their daughter’s accomplishments. She has recently begun to blink her eyes, they said, as a form of communication.
You can see the love in their eyes as they interact with their children but, Mr. Suttles said, love is not enough to provide for his family’s needs. The couple is reaching out to anyone willing to help to accommodate their family to fix their housing needs.
"We were sitting and watching Extreme Home Makeover one night and Phillip said we need to get them to build us a house for Lilly," Mr. Suttles said.
While the couple believe it is a shot in the dark, Mrs. Suttles took the suggestion to heart and began accessing the sight daily on her tiny cellphone, writing out the 18-page application by hand on blank sheets of paper.
"We didn’t have access to getting online," Mr. Suttles explained. "It took her awhile to do it. But, we’ve got that filled out. Now, we have to find someone with a video camera."
The couple has been married about five years, which they said has been a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, including Mrs. Suttles adopting her husband’s son by another marriage, them being homeless and camping at a state park and the birth of their daughter as well as the child being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
In spite of the earlier ups and downs, the couple located the acreage where they live and signed a contract to purchase about three years ago. They were thrilled that it came with a free mobile home. Although it was trashed, Mr. Suttles said, it was "a dream come true."
"I thought God answered our prayer and he did," Mr. Suttles said.
Prior to moving in, he said, they had to do a lot of work. They disposed of the trash and ripped out the old carpet, put in more used carpeting and patched and repaired as much as they could.
They advanced up the ladder as they could afford, purchasing luxuries, Mr. Suttles added.
"For the first two years, we didn’t have the luxury of television. Now we do," he added, pointing to one sitting nearby.
As far as the everyday necessities, Mr. Suttles said he can provide them. But, the money from his check, he said, does not allow for many extras, especially the supplies needed to repair the mobile home.
"I am supposed to take care of three people," he said, choking up. "I am doing the best I can. And, the best I can is to ask for help and hope someone is listening."
One that is listening is B.J. Thorn, also of Vilonia. While her finances are limited, she is trying to help the couple secure a video camera to send their story to the makeover show. She is also trying to get the attention of others locally that may be in a position to help. She knows the struggle surrounding a family dealing with a child with physical disabilities.
"It is obvious that they have done all they can do to secure a safe home for their children," Thorn said, following a recent visit to the Suttles. "Speaking as a parent with a child with physical disabilities, I know the future of their situation. Two things will remain true, these people will continue to do all they can to help their child and that child will continue to grow and have more needs. If there were a program out there to help their situation, this family would have found it and utilized it. No one plans on having a family member who will be physically dependent; it isn’t something you plan especially when having a baby. This family is unique in that they have two special needs children. But, these children are in a home filled with love. If they are given the chance to provide a safe environment for their children and a better quality of life, they will."