LUNENBURG - Burt Wathen, the artistic director of the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance (LAMP) in Lunenburg, is helping lead a fundraising effort in support of a beloved piano tuner and technician Ian Gillis whose muscular dystrophy (MD) has advanced to a point he needs to acquire a specialized wheelchair accessible vehicle.
For Gillis, a Chester Basin resident, his hips and core are significantly affected by MD, a progressive genetic disease that impacts several key muscle groups in the body. He wants to return to work in some capacity with LAMP and travel independently but he needs help that won't come without significant cost.
The purchase price of a used vehicle equipped with a hydraulic lift for a motorized wheelchair is in the range of $50,000.
Gillis is over six feet tall and needs to have a full-sized van with a lowered floor or raised roof. Wathen, who started an online fundraising campaign for Gillis, included his friend's story in the internet page's text. "The vehicle also has to have heavy-duty side entry lift or ramp, a remotely actuated side door, a custom located docking system for the wheelchair at the driver's position, and special hand controls to operate the gas and brake functions," the GoFundMe page said.
The vehicle also must accommodate Gillis's power wheelchair and his ability to navigate hand controls.
He has been a constant at LAMP about 60 days during the year since the facility opened in 2014. He also tunes pianos for churches and other organizations and individuals.
"He's an institution on the South Shore," Wathen said. "Anyone who's got a piano, they call Ian in."
Wathen watched MD take its toll on his friend's frame over the years, but not in his determination and spirit.
"You've never met a nicer fellow. We have great conversations when he's here; he's great company," Wathen said. "He's got the wheelchair but he's got no money to buy a van. We want to get him back to work and we just want to get him to get a life back."
Gillis, as an independent piano tech, and his wife, as a self-employed translator, don't have medical benefits insurance coverage. Since spring 2021, Gillis's personal income is derived mainly from a disability pension. Late last year, he broke his arm in a MD-related fall.
On the fundraising page, Gillis said his family had to contend with other major expenses, such as a home renovation to make the bathroom wheelchair accessible. While thankful for the service, he relies on a community wheels organization for medical appointments and other priority errand, but when it's available, it is only during weekday business hours.
The online fundraising page titled "Let's help Ian get back to work" can be found by searching it on www.gofundme.com.
As of May 26, more than $33,000 in donations toward the $50,000 goal have been committed.