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Brian McGrory

Building a miracle

Neighbors have pitched in to help the Tucker family make its home handicap-accessible. Neighbors have pitched in to help the Tucker family make its home handicap-accessible. (Bellatucker.org)
By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / November 5, 2010

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Somewhere between the negative ads and the graceless victory speeches, it occurred to me that politicians may not be all they’re cracked up to be, even if they’re not cracked up to be very much. Give me normalcy, give me humanity, give me real life.

My search brought me yesterday to a quiet road in the quaint town of Londonderry, N.H., to a relentlessly straightforward gentleman by the name of Tony Nigro. Happy to say, I hit the jackpot.

Nigro isn’t running for anything, but five minutes with him and he’d get my vote for any office he wants. He’s a project executive for Suffolk Construction Co. He’s also a father. He combined a parent’s empathy with a contractor’s insight and came up with an idea that is about to change people’s lives.

You see, Londonderry is where Bella Tucker lives. Bella is the little girl who got sick on Easter Sunday with what seemed like a cold but turned out to be an insidious infection that forced the amputation of both her arms and legs. An active, personable 8-year-old became, overnight, a quadruple amputee facing unimaginable struggles. How do you come to terms with that?

Tony Nigro lives in Londonderry, too, though he didn’t know Bella or her family. What he did know is that they would need help making their house handicap accessible, and he could get it done.

“Originally, it was just going to be a ramp,’’ he said yesterday, softly laughing. He was laughing because, in his words, “One thing kept leading to another.’’

That it did. The ramp led to an elevator. The elevator led to planned renovations to accommodate it. Those plans led to an eye-popping 2,400-square-foot addition that doubles the house’s size and changes virtually everything in it.

The result: More than 300 tradesmen from Suffolk and other assorted companies donated their time over two shifts a day, seven days a week to build a gorgeous addition in three months. More than 30 businesses donated materials, from state-of-the-art insulation to flat-panel televisions. “I wasn’t shy about asking,’’ Nigro said. Suffolk filled in with everything else.

Yesterday, workmen wrestled furniture inside as Nigro gave me a tour. Counters in the expansive new kitchen were low to allow Bella to help Selena, her mother, cook. The dining room fit a table big enough for all five siblings and their parents. Bella’s main-floor physical-therapy room had exercise equipment and a television on the wall.

“It’s all hospital grade,’’ Nigro said, down to HEPA filters that clean the air.

To keep utility bills low, workmen ripped out old systems and installed the most energy-efficient furnace, which is hooked up to half a dozen heating and cooling zones. There are low-energy lights, fresh insulation, and a new roof.

Nigro’s only concern: The addition results in higher property taxes. “We need people to go to bellatucker.org to help out,’’ he repeatedly said.

Upstairs, Bella’s corner bedroom links to a bathroom with a roll-in shower. Her parents, JetBlue flight attendants, have a modest, adjoining master suite. Even the old parts of the house got new flooring and windows. “Tough to tell the guys to stop,’’ Nigro said.

The elevator, donated by Otis, is the best of its class. The new garage has an extra-wide door to fit a van. There’s a new deck, new siding, and yes, a new front ramp — connected to a new farmer’s porch so it wouldn’t stand out.

I motioned to the front yard, covered in loam, and asked why. “New septic system,’’ Nigro replied. “It’ll be thick grass by spring.’’

Peter Roarty, Bella’s stepfather, was moving furniture yesterday. “I can’t describe how thankful we are,’’ he said. “We thought we were getting a handicap bathroom and a ramp. It’s overwhelming.’’

This weekend, Bella and her siblings return from where they’ve been, which is a hospital and a donated hotel suite. What they’ll see is a brand new house. What they’ll feel is humanity at its very best.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

Bella Tucker (center) with her family. (Photo courtesy of bellatucker.org) Bella Tucker (center) with her family.