SALT LAKE CITY — Kathy Felt can’t get out of her wheelchair under her own power to get into bed at night.
But the 66-year-old is a beloved figure in the neighborhood she’s called home for almost four decades. So for the past 10 years, a rotating cast of volunteers have showed up nightly like clockwork, lifting her into bed and tucking her in.
This is how folks care for each other in Sandy, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City. The nightly ritual enables Felt to avoid nursing homes and sleep in her own bed.
But the volunteers find it equally uplifting. Some 60 men are on a schedule to visit Felt two at a time. Even more neighbors want to help.
When asked how she feels about this outpouring of help, Felt says, “It just makes me feel very humble.”
A mom’s greatest blessing
Felt was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1978, when her two sons were little.
The neurological disease can affect vision, balance, muscle control and other essential functions. As it took a toll on Felt, her sons Chad and Todd embraced more responsibilities.
By 2006, the disease became so debilitating she needed help getting in and out of bed each day. Her sons made 10-minute drives, twice a day, to help.
“It was for about a year and a half or so, maybe even more. They were getting me up in the morning putting me to bed at night,” Felt says. “My greatest gift and my greatest blessing of all has been my two sons.”
But the schedule was grueling, and Felt began to contemplate moving into a nursing home.
That’s when backyard neighbor Keith Pugmire stepped in. He knew nursing homes are expensive.
“We just got together as a neighborhood and church group and said, ‘What can we do, Kathy, to help you and your family out?'” Pugmire tells CNN.
“It was determined that the best thing we could do is have a couple of men come in each night and help her.”
Pugmire and Felt didn’t agree upon just how long the arrangement would last.
“He said let us do this for as long as we can,” Felt says.
That was 10 years ago.
A neighbor’s well-orchestrated plan
Pugmire and Felt have been backyard neighbors and friends for 38 years.
Pugmire, 65, an executive with Recon Dynamics, an asset management company, figured out a system to help Felt.
“It started out with a core group of 20 to 30 people,” he says.
Those people included friends, neighbors and at least a dozen men from Pugmire’s men’s group at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He showed them how to lift Felt into the bed and gave specific instructions about charging her wheelchair and making sure her medication and water were in reach.
Pugmire eventually began using a free online management tool to coordinate his growing list of volunteers.
“We had no problem getting the men. As a matter of fact, we have a hard time scheduling everybody,” he says.
Felt’s sons still come over each morning to help her out of bed.
Pugmire cites the 1969 song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” by the Hollies as inspiration.
“We’re all here together, and we should help each other on the journey,” he says.
A special bond
Felt is eternally grateful for her team of angels, which includes three close girlfriends who have been shopping and helping her out with housework for years. But her army of volunteers and their families are genuinely grateful for her, too.
“So many people have been inspired by her story and her courage in the face of such devastating health challenges,” says Pugmire.
Felt has made a point of remembering everyone’s birthdays.
“I always try to remember birthdays and to get them a little card, a treat or a little gift,” she says.
Some of the volunteers’ children have also formed special bonds with Felt.
“Some of them have developed a friendship with Kathy and done pictures or letters, which she hangs up on the wall in her home,” Pugmire says. “In a lot of ways Kathy has become part of their family.”
As for Felt, she is overwhelmed with gratitude for her neighbors.
“I’m just so grateful for the friendship that I have with them,” she says. “You just can’t put a price on that.”