One good turn deserves another - WFLA News Channel 8

One good turn deserves another

Posted: Updated:
Richard Sabb, who is disabled, pays it forward by giving a life-changing gift to Rebecca Crosby. Tampa Tribune photo Richard Sabb, who is disabled, pays it forward by giving a life-changing gift to Rebecca Crosby. Tampa Tribune photo
Richard Sabb considers himself thrice blessed. He’s cheated death not once, not twice, but three times.

A blood clot on his spine that left him paralyzed from the waist down, a severe blood infection that landed him in hospice, and most recently, a stroke and massive bone infection that resulted in the amputation of his left leg and part of his hip.

“I tell Richard he’s like a cat,” says longtime friend Linda Brown. “He still got a few more lives left in him.”

Each time he faced adversity, Sabb, 66, fought back. But this latest blow to his health is forcing him to make some drastic changes in his life. He can no longer work, drive or live on his own. That’s just the way it is.

And he had to face a decision.

A special equipped vehicle was donated to him years ago, making it possible for him to continue to work and have some independence. It was his turn to pay it forward, to give it away to a deserving person facing similar challenges.

Who would it be?

Hard work defines Sabb. For 22 years, the father of five worked as a cook in a frozen-food plant in Salisbury, Md. When the plant closed, he got a job in the kitchen at a nursing home.

On Sept. 12, 1996, life as he knew it changed drastically. As he drove into the parking lot of the nursing home, a sharp pain shot through his back and stomach. Both legs started tingling. Then he felt nothing. He couldn't move at all. He dropped the cup of coffee he had just bought at a convenience store and cried out. Someone called 911.

He woke up in intensive care of a local hospital, paralyzed from a blood clot in his lower spine. Doctors told him that such a condition only occurred once in 250,000 people. In typical Sabb fashion, he responded: “Guess that makes me pretty rare.”

He relied on his strong Christian faith and his wife to help him adjust to life without use of his legs. But a year later, another blow. His spouse of 20 years was diagnosed with cancer in her pancreas and lung.

She was given six months to live, but only survived three. “Why me, Lord?” Sabb asked.

He needed help with his youngest daughter, Lattrice, 13. And the Maryland winters were too brutal for a man in his condition. So he moved back to the Bradenton area, where he had grown up. Lattrice moved in with his oldest daughter and her husband; he moved in with his sister.

He would sit in his wheelchair on her porch day after day, drinking beer and watching cars drive by. Sabb felt as if he was sinking into a dark abyss.

Then in 1999, someone told him about Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, a state agency that assists people with disabilities in finding work, housing and education. He knew getting back in the job market would save him. Sabb didn't like relying others.

With the help of counselor Linda Brown, life took another dramatic turn. Although she had never worked with a paraplegic before, she liked his enthusiasm and his willingness to do what it would take. She connected him with Hands On Education’s culinary training program at the Grand Hyatt designed for disabled workers. And she found him a stand-up wheelchair, which would make a kitchen job possible.

He took the training, passed with flying colors and was hired by the Hyatt to do prep work in the kitchen. He relocated to Tampa to start over again.

For a while, he relied on the public bus system. But after Brown’s physician husband died, another gift came his way. Hands On purchased the late doctor’s 2000 Lincoln Town Car, and Bill Weber of Mobility Transport Systems installed hand controls for free. Saab now had a car; more important, he had some independence restored.

“Richard taught me so much about rehabilitation,” says Brown, now retired. “Some people have arthritis in their knees and they quit working. But people like Richard, with so many more obstacles, don’t give up. He’ll always be a hero to me.”

John Ficca, founder of Hands On, agrees. When he first met Sabb, he asked him bluntly: Can you transfer yourself to the stand-up chair and work as a cook again?

“I’m not handicapped,” Sabb replied. “I just can’t walk.”

The two hit if off right away. Sabb was more than a graduate of the program to Ficca. He became an advocate for other people with disabilities, going to conferences and mentoring others in his situation. For all the encouragement he’s given, Ficca dubbed him “The Ambassador.”

“Richard demonstrates that almost anyone can work with the proper supports and accommodations,” Ficca says. “Heroes overcome adversity and always remain positive and confident in their abilities. And I’m proud to call this local hero my friend.”

Sabb’s nearly perfect work attendance record was disrupted in January, 2007, when he contracted a severe blood infection after a routine medical procedure. Told he only had six months to live, Saab was moved into a hospice facility in Sun City.

Family members and friends like Brown and Ficca kept a vigil by his bedside. They prayed for a miracle. They also began making funeral arrangements, just in case.

After several months, a hospice worker said it was time to send Saab home. “Hospice is for the dying, and Richard, you are not dying,” he was told. He thanked his supporters and told them he had never given up on God, and apparently, “God didn’t give up on me.” By August of that year, he was back at the Hyatt.

The latest blow came last June. He had been off work for a few days and no one had heard from him. Finally his daughter in Bartow called a neighbor. Would you check in on my father? He was found lodged between his bed and the wall, severely dehydrated and stricken by a stroke.

A doctor told him he was “one of the sickest men” he had seen in his life. A major bone infection erupted from a previous wound. The only way they could save his life was to amputate his entire left leg and part of his hip.

“I was mad at the whole world,” Sabb reflects of those dark post-operation days.

He had to give up his apartment and move into a long-term rehabilitation facility. Though he had reached a respectable retirement age, he didn’t want to quit his job. But he had no choice.

The one thing he did have control of was to donate the Lincoln Town Car. As much as he dreamed of driving again, deep down he knew that was unlikely. So he and Ficca worked with a local resource center for the disabled to help them seek applicants.

Saab had an idea for what the recipient would be like. Someone who was nice with a great sense of humor. Someone who cared about other people and had a positive attitude. And someone who worked at least 20 hours a week and was a responsible, dependable employee.

He didn’t realize as he rattled off those traits that he was looking for someone like him. “That pretty much sums up Richard,” Ficca says.

They got about two dozen applications.

Many of the candidates were deserving. But one application stood out. Six co-workers and friends wrote nominations for Rebecca Crosby, 34, who works at WellCare doing research in advocacy and community-based programs for client members. They called her a hard worker, sweet-spirited and positive.

She’s been in a wheelchair her whole life, born with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. All four of her limbs are impaired, but that hasn't stopped her from earning her bachelor and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Central Florida and working as a PartyLite consultant on the side.

The gift from Sabb was supposed to be the Town Car. But getting in and out of a two-seat sedan required assistance. So Weber of Mobility Transportation Services and Ficca came up with a plan: They sold the Lincoln and bought a wheelchair-accessible 2003 Ford E-250 from the Gulf Coast chapter of Paralyzed Veterans.

For a second time, Weber dug into his own funds and had the van repainted and upgraded.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he says, shrugging off his contribution. “It’s going to work so much better for her. I’m just glad to do whatever I can.”

Crosby was giddy with delight on the day they presented her with the van. She got to meet Sabb for the first time and they immediately hit it off.

“It’s definitely going to be named after him,” she promises.

She’s never driven before. The van still needs some retrofitting to accommodate her chair and special controls she will need. She’ll have to be trained in how to drive. But oh, the possibilities! Crosby couldn’t stop smiling as she looked at the vehicle. She felt just like Sabb did so many years earlier when he got the Lincoln.

“Road trip, here I come,” Crosby says. “Being able to drive is going to open so many doors for me. I won’t have to depend on buses or friends to get places. I can expand my business, buy a house. It’s going to be life-changing in so many ways.”

Her benefactor, dapper in his chauffeur’s cap, smiles broadly.

Life hasn’t always been fair. He’s had his share of bad breaks. But on this day, Richard Sabb felt like the luckiest man alive.

Don’t miss out on the day’s top Facebook conversations
         
 

  • 8 On Your SideMore>>

  • Pinellas homeowner ends up the loser after local government mistake on property taxes

    Pinellas homeowner ends up the loser after local government mistake on property taxes

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 5:59 PM EDT2014-07-22 21:59:58 GMT
    This Preservation land is at heart of homeowner tax dispute in PinellasThis Preservation land is at heart of homeowner tax dispute in Pinellas
    Melanie and Jeffrey Cornwell should have been getting a tax break for years on part of the homestead property in Dunedin they call their "little piece of Heaven." But due to a mistake at the Pinellas Property Appraiser's Office, they won't see any rebates for previous taxes, just a break on future tax bills.
    Melanie and Jeffrey Cornwell should have been getting a tax break for years on part of the homestead property in Dunedin they call their "little piece of Heaven." But due to a mistake at the Pinellas Property Appraiser's Office, they won't see any rebates for previous taxes, just a break on future tax bills.
  • RECALL: Fruit at Trader Joe's & Costco

    RECALL: Fruit at Trader Joe's & Costco

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 5:45 PM EDT2014-07-22 21:45:14 GMT
    A Central California company has issued a voluntary nationwide recall of specific lots of its fresh peaches, plums, nectarines and pluots over concerns of possible listeria contamination.
    A Central California company has issued a voluntary nationwide recall of specific lots of its fresh peaches, plums, nectarines and pluots over concerns of possible listeria contamination.
  • How thieves clone your credit cards

    How thieves clone your credit cards

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 9:15 AM EDT2014-07-22 13:15:02 GMT
    File photoFile photo
    Patricia Stack didn't know her debit card number had been stolen until she tried to withdraw money from her bank account. "A couple weeks ago I tried to get money out to pay my power bill and there was nothing in it."
    Patricia Stack didn't know her debit card number had been stolen until she tried to withdraw money from her bank account. "A couple weeks ago I tried to get money out to pay my power bill and there was nothing in it."
  • NewsMore>>

  • Baby throwing murder trial underway in Tampa

    Baby throwing murder trial underway in Tampa

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 9:12 PM EDT2014-07-23 01:12:31 GMT
    He shuffled into court wide-eyed, anxious and apprehensive.Richard McTear faced his jury for the first time Tuesday morning.
    He shuffled into court wide-eyed, anxious and apprehensive.Richard McTear faced his jury for the first time Tuesday morning.
  • Bradenton man accused of impregnating 12-year-old girl

    Bradenton man accused of impregnating 12-year-old girl

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 8:31 PM EDT2014-07-23 00:31:02 GMT
    Zachrey McDowell is charged with lewd & lascivious battery. Manatee Co. Jail booking photoZachrey McDowell is charged with lewd & lascivious battery. Manatee Co. Jail booking photo
    A 30-year-old Bradenton man was arrested after investigators say he met a 12-year-old girl on Facebook and got her pregnant.
    A 30-year-old Bradenton man was arrested after investigators say he met a 12-year-old girl on Facebook and got her pregnant.
  • Pinellas homeowner ends up the loser after local government mistake on property taxes

    Pinellas homeowner ends up the loser after local government mistake on property taxes

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 5:59 PM EDT2014-07-22 21:59:58 GMT
    This Preservation land is at heart of homeowner tax dispute in PinellasThis Preservation land is at heart of homeowner tax dispute in Pinellas
    Melanie and Jeffrey Cornwell should have been getting a tax break for years on part of the homestead property in Dunedin they call their "little piece of Heaven." But due to a mistake at the Pinellas Property Appraiser's Office, they won't see any rebates for previous taxes, just a break on future tax bills.
    Melanie and Jeffrey Cornwell should have been getting a tax break for years on part of the homestead property in Dunedin they call their "little piece of Heaven." But due to a mistake at the Pinellas Property Appraiser's Office, they won't see any rebates for previous taxes, just a break on future tax bills.
  • Sign up for WFLA News Channel 8 Email Alerts

    * denotes required fields






    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Couple arrested for having sex on Cortez Beach in front of beachgoers

    Couple arrested for having sex on Cortez Beach in front of beachgoers

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 1:08 PM EDT2014-07-22 17:08:35 GMT
    Bradenton Beach police officers were dispatched to Cortez Beach after a few people called 911 and complained about a couple having sex publicly, right next to a little girl on the beach.
    Bradenton Beach police officers were dispatched to Cortez Beach after a few people called 911 and complained about a couple having sex publicly, right next to a little girl on the beach.
  • 'Faces of Meth' program launched by Sheriff's office

    'Faces of Meth' program launched by Sheriff's office

    Monday, July 21 2014 6:37 PM EDT2014-07-21 22:37:35 GMT
    'Faces of Meth' is a project of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
    'Faces of Meth' is a project of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
  • New surveillance shows Tampa boy's death as hit and run

    New surveillance shows Tampa boy's death as hit and run

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 4:51 PM EDT2014-07-22 20:51:45 GMT
    A still image from a business surveillance camera shows what appears to be a small boy running on the sidewalk.A still image from a business surveillance camera shows what appears to be a small boy running on the sidewalk.
    New surveillance video has Tampa Police investigating 4-year-old Marterrance Albury's death as a hit and run. 
    New surveillance video has Tampa Police investigating 4-year-old Marterrance Albury's death as a hit and run. 
Powered by WorldNow

200 South Parker Street, Tampa, FL 33606

Telephone: 813.228.8888
Fax: 813.225.2770
Email: news@wfla.com

Can’t find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.