YORK — Rita Gibson became a mother again for the fifth time at the age of 50 – stepping in to take care of her granddaughter, Abigail Nevins.
Now 59, Gibson cannot imagine her life without the 10-year-old she calls Abby, who suffers from cerebral palsy and requires around-the-clock care and attention.
“It’s a full-time job, 24/7,” said Gibson, who has had sole custody of Abby since she was 18 months old.
Abby’s mother, Gibson’s daughter, is 38 and visits from time to time, but she has a learning disability and is unable to care for her child.
Gibson asked the state to grant her custody of Abby when neither of her parents could handle the demands of raising her.
“There was no way I was gonna leave this child in foster care,” she said.
But it hasn’t been easy, Gibson admits, and the family is now reaching out for help with a benefit ride on Saturday to raise money to pay for a wheelchair-accessible van.
Gibson and her retired husband live on a fixed income in a York mobile home. They take Abby to at least one doctor’s visit a week. Abby soon will undergo a series of intense operations to correct a severe curvature in her spine.
Cerebral palsy, commonly diagnosed in early childhood or infancy, affects muscular mobility, making simple actions like eating or sitting up difficult or close to impossible. Abby relies on a wheelchair and braces to support her back and legs and needs help with eating and personal care.
“She’s a grown infant,” said Gibson. “This is how it’s gonna be for the rest of her life.”
Gibson knew what she was getting herself into when she asked for custody of Abby. Her greatest concern has been getting older herself and being unable to keep up with the daily demands of caring for Abby.
Currently, Gibson has to lift the 80-pound girl and her 100-pound wheelchair in and out of the family’s beat-up van.
“I’m not no young chicken any more,” said Gibson. “Our main goal is for this child to be safe and transportable, and not for Mama’s back to go out.”
The family hopes to raise $2,000 to buy a van with a chair lift. Lori Hoover, Abby’s aunt, is helping organize the benefit, which will feature a motorcycle ride with the Huscarls of Clover, a local biker’s club.
The bikers will make stops in Rock Hill, Chester and Smyrna, with an event in Clover featuring live music, raffles, prizes and a silent auction.
Hoover, a single mother herself, said she is prepared to take care of Abby if her mother is unable.
“She’s a fighter,” Hoover said of Gibson. “I don’t wanna see my mama struggle like this.”
The family has tried to solicit donations privately and recently raised $500 at a yard sale, she said, but most of that money will pay the costs associated with Saturday’s benefit.
By putting a face on cerebral palsy, Hoover hopes the benefit will encourage people to donate who otherwise wouldn’t.
“Kids are mean – and even adults sometimes,” she said of the times the family takes Abby to public events and gatherings like church. She said Abby can get rowdy or noisy.
Gibson is looking to get a substitute teacher’s position that would allow her to work while Abby attends Cotton Belt Elementary School. She worked previously as an emergency medical technician for more than a decade.
The family has outgrown their current home, Gibson said. Abby’s medical equipment includes special furniture like a hospital bed, wheelchair, chair lift and a walker.
“That’s our lifelong dream, to get a double-wide,” Gibson said of expanding their home. “I’m always looking to see what I can do to better my situation with her.”