- Associated Press - Sunday, September 6, 2020

HOLDREGE, Neb. (AP) - Susan Falk pulled the bright blue lawn chair out of the back of her car and a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a lemonade from the front.

With a scarf face mask covering her mouth and nose, Falk handed the KFC and lemonade to Christian Homes Care Community Activities Director Ellen Montgomery outside near the dining room at Christian Homes in Holdrege. After passing off the meal, Falk set up her chair outside the building next to a dining room window where her brother, David Arehart, waited for her and his KFC.

It’s a tradition that started for Falk and David during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to directed health measures, Falk is unable to visit her brother inside the nursing home. Falk takes turns with her other brother Brock Arehart and his business partner and friend, Andrew Brackett, to travel from Kearney Wednesday evenings to bring David a meal and visit with him through the window. Their sister Nina Putnam and her husband, Ed, of Holdrege also visit David through the window.

When David was age 2, he became ill with meningitis.

“He was very, very sick. I don’t think they gave him much of a chance to live,” Falk told the Kearney Hub. “His temperature didn’t even register on the thermometer. That was a long time ago so they didn’t really know how to treat it at that time. It was new territory.”

The illness left David paralyzed on his right side and with other physical issues, including speech, hearing and mental impairments.

“He had to relearn how to walk, talk, potty train, all those things,” Falk said.

David was able to not only learn how to walk and talk again, but he was able to ride a bicycle, roller skate and ice skate.

“He had lots of fun and was very, very active,” Falk said.

David attended kindergarten at Wilcox Public Schools and then attended the Institute of Logopedics in Wichita, Kansas, until age 9. After returning home, David attended schools at Ragan and Oxford. He would go on to spend 27 years living first in a group home and then independently in Broken Bow.

As their parents, Marvin and Mary Arehart, grew older, the couple decided to move their son closer to their home in Wilcox. David lived at Bethphage Mosaic Mission in Holdrege before moving to Christian Homes in 2016.

Before the pandemic, Falk would visit David at least once a week and would spend each Wednesday with him. In the morning, David would attend chapel and Falk would play piano during the service. She also would play or volunteer for bingo each week. The duo would have lunch together, and David often would take a nap after lunch. Falk would busy herself until David was awake, and they would visit until about 5 p.m.

The pandemic drastically changed that routine, Falk said.

She now talks to him at least once a week on FaceTime. If the Christian Homes staff members sense that David needs a pick-me-up, they give her a call.

“The nurses are wonderful to him. They are wonderful to all the residents. I give them a lot of credit. If he gets down in the dumps, they immediately FaceTime me,” Falk said.

Now when she visits, she sets her chair in front of a window and calls David on her iPhone. Through FaceTime, sign language and lip reading, they are able to communicate.

But when the box of chicken is set in front of him, David is ready to eat. Falk brings him a two-piece original recipe chicken meal, with mashed potatoes, coleslaw, a biscuit and lemonade.

“One time I threw the biscuit out because I didn’t think he needed the carbs and he shook the honey (packet) at me like, ‘Where’s my biscuit?’” Falk said with a laugh.

Brock Arehart, the owner of Kitt’s Kitchen and Coffee in Kearney, has brought David meals from other restaurants, including some of his own cooking, but David always wants Falk to bring him KFC.

The family was able to celebrate David’s 70th birthday June 26 with an open-air visit at Christian Homes. They brought cupcakes for all the residents and staff, and had balloons tied to the back of David’s wheelchair.

Montgomery said Christian Homes has purchased indoor visiting tunnels for patients and families to be able to continue visits when colder weather arrives and if the directed health measures do not change. The resident and visitor will go in the tunnel and there will be a vinyl covering to separate them.

However, Montgomery said, it is more flexible and easier for residents and their loved ones to see and hear one another in the tunnels. Visitors also must wear a mask, sanitize and have their temperatures checked.

Falk looks forward to the day when she can return to her normal visits with David, but she remains patient.

“It might be a while but I’m OK with that. It’s hard but we have to do what we have to do,” she said.

Once David finishes his meal, they sit together for a few minutes before he’s ready to go watch TV a bit before heading to bed.

Before she leaves, Falk always tells him “I love you” verbally and in sign language. Many times he will reply with, “Yep I know” or tell her “Thank you.”

But at the end of Wednesday’s visit, after she signed and told David she loves him, he heartily responded, “I love you, too.”

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

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