DADE CITY — When Danny Bush, a double amputee, first arrived at Heritage Park Nursing Center in November, his first question was how he could help other residents.
Now every Monday through Saturday, the 49-year-old sorts and hand delivers mail sent to residents at the nursing center. He rides in a wheelchair from room to room doling out hugs and handshakes along with the mail, even stopping to read letters to those with vision problems.
"One person can lift the atmosphere of a whole place," said activities director Nila Premer. "He hasn't had the easiest life, and he still lifts us all up."
While Bush, disabled at age 24 in a car accident, always has plenty of smiles and kind words to offer his neighbors at Heritage Park, what he didn't have was an operable wheelchair. His 5-year-old, manually operated model was highly uncomfortable and difficult to navigate.
"I couldn't recline or support myself in the chair," he said. "Sometimes a part would fall off of the chair. I'd pick it up, put it back on and keep going."
Bush's parents, Sandra and Owen Bush of Dade City, raised money to help repair their son's chair, but as the repairs kept coming and costs mounted, both they and Heritage Park staff members realized a new chair was needed.
"Danny would get down sometimes," said Sandra Bush. "And a bad day for Danny is a bad day for everybody else. He lifts everyone's spirits."
A May Pasco Times story detailed Bush's volunteer work at Heritage Park, mentioning his need for a new chair to facilitate his daily rounds. The story prompted Heritage Park's parent company, Gulf Coast Health Care LLC, to give Bush a new, electronically operated wheelchair valued at $3,900.
Working in collaboration with Jeffrey Ward, administrator of Heritage Park, Gulf Coast purchased the chair from Marc's Mobility in Lakeland. Gulf Coast covered the full cost of the chair, with no assistance available from government or insurance programs.
Kathleen Wesolowski, director of operations at Gulf Coast, was on hand last week to help present the chair to Bush.
"The funds that we have to provide wheelchairs for our residents are few and far between, with legislative funding for nursing care centers always on the chopping block," she said. "But Craig Robinson, president of Gulf Coast LLC, saw Danny's story in the Times and was so touched. We knew we had to help this man who helps our residents."
On Wednesday afternoon in a room normally reserved for bingo, the staff gathered near a banner for Bush that hovered just above his new wheelchair. Some of the nurses started yelling out bingo calls to give the impression that a game was under way.
Finally Bush entered the room flanked by his parents, his eyes flying wide as patients and staff members cheered his name.
Then he saw the chair at the head of the room.
"I can't believe it," he said, fighting back tears. "Thank you all so very much."
Then he took a test drive.
"One year when I was a teen-ager, my folks got me a '67 Mustang as a present," he said as he cruised down the hallway. "I think that just about matches this gift."
The chair, Bush said, would mean less pain and more ease of movement for him, especially during his daily mail runs and during his stints as a volunteer Bible school teacher at Dade City Christian Church. And according to Dr. Thomas Edwards, Bush's physician, the benefits of this new chair will enhance and improve his patient's life.
"For an active person like Danny, this chair will mean increased mobility," he said. "And chairs like this are good for a patient's psychology as well."
In the eyes of Ward, the chair is a fitting gift for a patient who has brought far more than mail to Heritage Park residents.
"He's always greeting other residents, talking to them and hearing their stories," he said. "He encourages them to … come to the activities we have here, and he encourages them in life."
"Danny brings joy to us," he said. "He inspires us."