HATS continues to change lives

by marlys good

“It’s given me a whole new outlook on life,” said a smiling, exuberant Tracy Shepard Buechler, sitting in her motorized scooter as we chat outside her residence in Valley Homes. Tracy, who has multiple sclerosis, purchased the scooter with the help of Hands Across the Saddle (HATS), an organization she knew nothing about — until she got the scooter.

It has brought Tracy a new lease on life, given her the freedom to go places on her own timeline without having to rely on others. And it has given her something else. “I have a job,” she said, a sparkle in her eyes. “Not a paying job,” she added quickly, “But starting next week I’m going to be a volunteer at the Community Outreach thrift shop. I talked to Alice (Williams, the manager) and she was wonderful.” Tracy has been “in training,” so to speak, but next week will be manning the cash register.

Three people were instrumental in obtaining the scooter through HATS. Shanna Flath, home health care provider who has become a valued friend, knew a scooter was exactly what her client/friend needed and, without saying a word, got an application, filled it out and took it back to Tracy, who was against taking any “charity.” However, Cheri Edeler and Sherri Hunt convinced her it “was a good thing. Sign it.” Tracy did, the application was approved and within a few days, Tracy had her scooter.

Tracy, a 1985 GHS grad and the daughter of Pat and the late Larry Shepard of Greybull, was diagnosed with MS when she was 21 years old, a student at Chadron State College in Nebraska just a year away from graduating. She laughs as she adds, “I didn’t know anything about MS then. In fact, I thought the doctor said I had MD, and I asked, ‘Am I one of Jerry’s kids now?’”

But then, reality set in. MS wreaked havoc on her, mentally, emotionally and physically. She was ready to give up, quit college and come home, but her Dad told her she couldn’t quit. She had gone too far and was almost there (a degree).

Medications finally got things under control; Tracy graduated from Chadron State with a bachelor’s degree in business, got a “great” job, got married in 1993, and had her daughter, Allie, in 1994.

“I went on Girl Scout campouts, parades, took care of my daughter, was the kind of mother I wanted to be,” she said.

Although as time passed, she needed more and more help, her husband and daughter were right there.

Things began to go downhill in 2007, with the death of her father. “Stress has an effect on MS,” Tracy said, “and losing Dad was very stressful,” she recalls, eyes misting.

“Then one morning I woke up and my world had tipped over.” Her health declined, she needed more and more help all the time. The disease not only took a toll on Tracy, who was using a walker and wheelchair by this time, but on the Buechlers’ marriage.

“I wasn’t naïve,” Tracy said. “I knew what was happening, and I had been preparing for it. I wasn’t going to lay down and roll over; have people say ‘MS got her.’”

Tracy moved back to Greybull in 2013 and lived with her mother for two weeks before moving into the handicapped accessible apartment at Valley Homes.

Although she’s always upbeat, optimistic and smiling, Tracy admits to sometimes getting on the pity pot. “Here I was, in my 40s, living in an ‘old folks’ home. I had no life….” Then the reality of the friendship, camaraderie, shared memories and just the pure goodness of the people in her hometown took front and center.

There were old friends, and new friends who took Tracy wherever she needed to go. Friends who made sure she got to church on Sundays, got her to the bank; to doctor’s appointments; on outings; stopped in for coffee; took her to Shopko or Blair’s or to the beauty shop; fixed her meals; took her to dinner or to ballgames, ir popped in just to say hello and visit a while. She knew she was blessed.

And yet, for someone who has always been fiercely independent, she was hesitant to ask for anything. “People had lives, work, families of their own. They couldn’t just drop everything when I called,” she explained. But she knew it was just the way things were, the way they had to be. Now she doesn’t have to wait for others to get out and about.

If she wants to take her dog for a walk, she puts “Taylor” on a leash and away they go. She goes to the beauty shop, to the senior center, to CC’s, to barbecues, picnics, to the store to buy something to take to carry-ins. The A&W is just down the street, and the Coffee Barn is a favorite spot. Most every evening she, Hunt, Edeler and Flath get together for some conversation and laughs.

And, believe it or not, she even “scooted” to Sam and Suzie Goods one evening for dinner – and that’s on Greybull Heights.

The independence the scooter has provided has been a life-changer for her daughter, Pat said.

“She used to be able to do nothing but sit in her house and look out the window; she got so bored. Now she’s out and about and I never know where she is. I’ve threatened to take the batteries out of the thing so I can keep track of her.”

Tracy just laughs and says, “Catch me if you can!”

Tracy summed it up quite well. “My legs may not work, but my mind works wonderfully. MS doesn’t define who I am; I’m the same person I always was.”

Tracy is now on a mission to give back to the community. “There are people who have a lot of hardships and we sometimes forget that. I am just so thankful to HATS, thankful, happy and grateful; I want to pass it on.”

Thanks to HATS and her own fortitude and determination, she is in a position to do that.