For a year now, Diane L. Schroeder, 66, has taken showers on her back patio using a garden hose. Her wheelchair doesn't fit in the guest bathroom of her home. When her master bathroom was gutted, it revealed an increasingly widening gap between the wall and the floor. Her story is no parable. Her house was, quite literally, built on sand instead of rock. And it's slowly sinking.
Featured in The News-Press back in March, the recent amputee had been battling a Florida insurance company since 2011 to correct what she considers faulty construction from the early '70s. Because of debris thrown under the house when it was first built 34 years ago, the foundation shifts. As organic material underneath decomposes, the structure sinks lower on one side of the home.
Her former insurance company, Tower Hill Insurance Group, said they weren't responsible for those damages and then dropped Schroeder from the company. Her homeowner's insurance expires in October, she said. And since her right leg was amputated, the retired San Carlos Park widow has struggled to adjust to living inside her own home.
At night, she's forced to use a commode placed in the corner of her bedroom. Her life has become a process of thinking ahead, of pushing through. The walls of her house have always been her sanctuary; the place she prays for grace and strength. It's the place she shared with her husband until he died in 2009 from lung cancer.
"I don't ever want to see anybody go through this," Schroeder said. "God gave me a deep faith and a sense of humor and with the grace of God, I go forth, but some days it's quite a challenge."
It could cost between $14,000 and $22,000 to stabilize the foundation and get other work completed. It's money she doesn't have on a fixed income of $1,555 a month, not including mortgage payments and medical bills. She still needs another surgery to connect the muscle in her right leg to the femur.
To get a grant for some of the work, Schroeder was told she to provide a portion of insurance proceeds she received last year for renovations. This amount comes to an estimated $3,250 from a claim for water damage. The expectation based on the federal program guidelines is that she bring that money to the table and then the grant would make-up the difference.
"Diane came to us like a year ago for housing rehab beyond the scope of what we could do with HUD funds," said Ann Arnall, director of Lee County Department of Human Services. "Now we've partnered with Builders Care on her behalf …what (Diane) really needs is a handicap accessible bathroom but to retrofit that bathroom, stabilization of the foundation has to happen first."
And that money won't be sufficient to cover all the expenses. Portions of that original claim were used toward testing the ground and the purchasing of bathroom fixtures. Some of it also went toward essential needs such as fixing Schroeder's car and the pool. Heidi Taulman, executive director at Lee BIA Builders Care said substantial time and effort has been donated to investigating the problem.
"We're looking forward to being in a position to help her," Taulman said. "She's exactly the type of people we want to help. This is a community-wide effort. We're close, but funding is always a challenge."
Between the nerve pain in her leg and anxiety about finances, Schroeder keeps up appearances. She loves to cook, to garden and to entertain guests on Sundays over card games. She uses her pool to maintain her sanity.
"It's humbling to have your independence taken in that way … to have to rely 75 to 80 percent on other people you can trust," Schroeder said. "There are months I don't make it. If my sons didn't help me, I'd never make it. I'm someone who always tries to keep busy; I just want to see my home fixed, to live in the place I love. I hope I may be able to one day walk on the beach, enjoy life, maybe do a little jig again."
How to help
By mail: Send donations by mail to Diane Schroeder P.O. Box 510 Estero, FL 33929
Donations can be made in Diane Schroeder's name to the Builders Care General Fund at BB&T - Pagefield branch located at 4959 S. Cleveland Ave. in Fort Myers. You can also send checks to Lee BIA Builders Care, 10501 Six Mile Cypress Parkway, Suite 104, Fort Myers, Florida 33966 or make a donation online at leebuilderscare.com/make_donation.php