LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. -- It's what friends are for.
A metro man with disabilities has spent his life helping others, and now, his loved ones are coming to his rescue, helping him stay on the road.
Freedom means everything to Lee's Summit resident Barry Elbasani, and so does friendship. Elbasani, 42, has used a wheelchair since 2002, having survived a freak diving accident that left him with a severe spinal cord injury. The 14-year-old accessible van he uses to get around has seen better days, having driven well past the 100,000 mile mark.
“If I can't rely on that vehicle, then it's affecting a lot of different parts of my life,” Elbasani said on Tuesday.
The old Ford van has become a gas-guzzler, and Elbasani says it’s developed problems with its steering mechanism and the wheelchair lift that helps him enter the car’s passenger side.
Elbasani, a Raytown South High School graduate, is still paralyzed from the chest down.
Nowadays, he works full-time for Missouri Vocational Rehab, a state agency that helps people with disabilities find jobs.
“If I can't rely on [transportation] to go where I want to go to get to and from work,” Elbasani explained, “it brings you right back to being dependent.”
That’s where Jeremy Radford, Elbasani’s lifelong friend, comes in.
“Friends take care of each other,” Radford beamed.
Radford has been Elbasani's best friend since the two were three years old, long before Barry's spinal cord injury. Photos show the two attending Kansas City Chiefs games as adults and celebrating Christmas together as young boys.
“People don't realize Barry needs help,” Radford told FOX 4 News. “He makes it all look so easy.”
Radford had helped raise part of the $40,000 Elbasani needs to replace the outdated van. That sum doesn't even cover the wheelchair features he needs.
“This is like me getting a phone call, and saying, 'hey, I need to move. Will you bring your truck and move some boxes for me?' or something like that. It's just what friends do,” Radford said.
Radford even started the online hashtag, #KeepBarryDriving4Independence, meant to raise awareness of Elbasani’s contributions and needs for a replacement van.
Radford also started a crowdfunding page on You Caring, meant to help generate the remainder of the money needed.
“What an honor. I'm excited about the opportunity,” Elbasani said.
Radford says his buddy's chair is merely a different kind of shoes he uses to get around. Elbasani agrees, saying his chair and the van are his means of staying free, mobile, and able to serve.
Elbasani also helped launch Focus on Independence in 2007. That non-profit group helped provide free Lasik eye surgery to people with disabilities living in the metro.