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Vietnam vet becomes hero to hundreds at home

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. – As a new addition arrived at Emily Hicks’ home, the 84-year-old woman could not contain her excitement.  An army of volunteers installed for her a bridge to the outside world — a streamlined wheelchair ramp.

“I think it is a God sent blessing,” Hicks said. “I fall so much I need it bad.”

What used to take a day or two to install, can now be up and running in just a few hours.

The modular ramp was created by Joe Doetzer. The units are built in a warehouse and delivered in sections.

Joe Doetzer (left)

Joe Doetzer (left)

“We do it in stages,” Joe said. “Each takes about half a day.”

Joe has installed hundreds of ramps for the non-profit Project Homes since 1998. Over the years, Project Homes has helped the elderly and less fortunate with home renovations.

“Well, you’ve got to put yourself in their shoes,” Joe said.

The ramps help people with disabilities live a normal life. It is an issue close to Doetzer’s heart. The 68-year-old U.S. Army veteran was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease in his 30’s, not long after being exposed to Agent Orange serving in Vietnam.

Joe5

“It was pretty devastating,” Joe said of the diagnosis.

The veteran. who must use a walker, said giving up in the face of physical challenges was never an option.

“I’ve been told I’m pretty stubborn. I want to get things done,” he said.

Project Homes Anne McNeal called Joe the face of the program.

“Many of the clients we serve have been on the waiting list for a while,” Anne said. “When Joe started with the groups the ramp production doubled.”

Joe3

Joe said building the ramps has kept the effects of Parkinson’s at bay.

“Yes, it has helped me get through some of the difficult times,” he said.

“Joe definitely fits the bill of being a hero,” his supervisor Wayne Swatlowski said. “He leaves a tremendous legacy in the Metro Richmond area.”

When he started he never knew a few nails, some wood and a hammer could make such a difference in his life and others like Emily Hicks.

Click here to nominate a hero.

Click here to nominate a hero.

 

“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” Joe said. “A real charge seeing people’s reactions.”

Anne McNeal said of her friend “He is a very driven man and a very kind man and he has one of the biggest hearts I know.”

Project Homes will be installing the 1000th wheelchair ramp in Richmond in the coming weeks.

Greg McQuade and CBS 6 News are featuring local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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