By ANGELA NIMS
Special to the Sunday Times
WYANDOTTE — Domino effects seem to most often lead into darkness, but for one Downriver family, the falling dominos paused, course-corrected, then unfurled toward the light.
In the 32 years Justin Miracle has been alive, he has endured cerebral palsy, a brain tumor, severe seizures, a heart attack and the murders of his parents.
In January, however, when his caregivers — his brother and sister-in-law — were the only ones to attend his birthday party, his sister-in-law, Lori Miracle, had enough. Venting her frustration, she posted a photo of Justin in bed, happy just to be holding shiny silver birthday balloons.
“Nobody showed up, but still had a happy birthday. Love you buddy,” Lori said in the post.
Della Dixon saw the post on her feed and was heartbroken. A member of the Facebook community page Downriver and Friends, she contacted the family asking if it would be OK for everyone to send birthday cards to Justin. When she received the OK, she shared Lori Miracle’s post with the group along with a request for Downriver and Friends to show Justin some love.
Boy, did they ever.
Jay Ray, of local barbecue fame, had an upcoming event planned at the Brass Monkey in Wyandotte. He sought to invite the family to his event, where they could enjoy a birthday dinner as his treat. So, Ray contacted Downriver and Friends founder Jeff Kerekes in the hopes he could get in touch with the family and extend the invitation.
The Miracle family was delighted to receive the invitation, but checked their enthusiasm with the reality they might not be able to get Justin outside of the house that evening.
Justin is unable to walk, yet his family’s home does not have a handicapped accessible ramp. His special needs wheelchair is often problematic to transport to the driveway.
Kerekes was stunned to hear of this and took to the group, flagging the Miracle family’s need for a ramp. Greg Tittle, of Tittle Brothers Construction, stepped up to the plate, chalking in his company to donate all the labor in the hopes the group could pitch in for the materials.
By the time Ray’s event rolled around, the family dinner grew to a veritable party. Balloon animals, a cake, cards, presents and nearly standing room only at the Brass Monkey.
“I’d estimate there were about 140 people in attendance,” Brass Monkey co-owner Jared French, said. “Though it’s sometimes hard to peer into the mind of someone (with a developmental disability), he was absolutely smiling the whole time he was here.”
Dixon was thrilled with how the events unfolded.
“These business owners really stepped up and did more than I could do,” she said. “No hesitation at all. It makes you really proud of the Downriver community.”
“Every person there, you would have thought Justin was their family,” Kerekes said. “They were so protective of him and so eager to wish him a happy birthday.”
The party marked a bright spot that was long in coming. Eighteen years ago, Justin was only 14 when his parents were murdered. His parents were his caregivers.
Unable to do very much for himself, he was alone in the house for two days with his parents’ bodies. His brother and sister-in-law immediately took him in.
“He was involved in community mental health,” Miracle said. “While he was in his program he went for up to six hours, three days a week. They went bowling, out to eat, did stuff in the community. Then, three years ago, he went into cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with a rare heart condition: Wolff-Parkinson-White (syndrome).”
The heart attack led to a 12-day stint in the hospital, and caused his strength to dwindle further.
“He used to be able to walk a short distance with assistance but after that he could not anymore,” Miracle said. “He can’t really stand.”
His condition worsened. Justin had to quit the community program due to the task of getting him in and out of the house without a ramp. Although a charitable organization previously offered to help with the ramp, it had not materialized.
“He had surgery and they blocked one of the holes,” Miracle said. “He’s been doing so well. He’s been through so much. He’s a fighter, survivor. My hero.
“And he’s so happy through everything. It’s torture to see him stuck in this house. He’s ready to get back out of this house and start enjoying life.”
That isn’t the only thing upsetting Miracle. Budgets are tight and her movement is labored since 19 months ago, when she was in a crash with a semi-tractor truck. In the interim, she has undergone two neck and one back surgeries.
“Justin loves me to take care of him and he doesn’t understand why I can’t,” she said.
“Then all this happened. And I think our lives are finally going to turn around. So many kind strangers wanting to help, it’s just so touching. I’ve been crying for a week, happy tears. I just feel so many people are on our side and rooting for us and waiting for the happy ending.
“The food was awesome. And you could just feel the love and compassion in the room. It was amazing. So emotional just seeing Justin’s face and the shock like, ‘Is this for me?’
“I have so so many people to thank. I’ve never talked so much in my life. My throat was sore. It’s just wonderful.”
Tittle Brothers Constuction plans to revamp the deck, adding a ramp and expanding the doorwall to patio doors so Justin’s wheelchair is more easily maneuvered.
To donate to the materials needed, or to Justin’s long term care and handicapped van fund, go to www.gofundme.com/our-angel-justin-miracle.
(Contact Angela Nims at [email protected].)