Rally for a friend Ephrata worker needs new service dog,hearing device

By on February 15, 2012

By: BETH KACHEL Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Lori Biechler with her beloved dog Abigail, who passed away in October.Lori Biechler with her beloved dog Abigail, who passed away in October.

Lori Biechler is an inspiration to many.

Born without ear drums, she is deaf, suffers from severe arthritis and has limited vision in one eye, yet she has not allowed these challenges to stop her from leading a positive and productive life.

"I feel that I’m not any different from anyone else, because it is a part of me," explained the longtime Lititz resident, "When my sister and I were born, they told us both that we should be put in an institution. The doctors had told my mom that my sister and I would never walk. I wish the doctor was here today because we’re both strong."

Strong indeed. Biechler not only learned to walk, she graduated high school and went to college, got married and works full-time as a medical billing professional.

After overcoming so much, Biechler currently faces two hurdles that she cannot jump on her own.

Her current BAHA hearing device model, which acts as her replacement ear drum during the day, is no longer in production, and thus cannot be serviced. If her device would malfunction, she would be unable to work or communicate with others.

In addition, this past October, she lost Abigail, her companion dog of 12 years, who had been her faithful helper since the unexpected death of her husband, Donald. Biechler needs a service dog to keep her safe when she removes her hearing device at night.

Biechler cannot afford to purchase these supports. Both come with the hefty price tag of $4,000 and are not covered by insurance.

Seeing her need, Biechler’s co-workers at Heritage Surgical came up with the idea to help her by raising funds toward the purchase of a service dog and an up-to-date hearing device.

Ann Snader, who has worked with Biechler for the past 13 years at Heritage, belongs to the Ephrata Lions Club and came up with the idea to sponsor a Vera Bradley bingo for Biechler’s benefit.

"We were talking one day and I said, ‘You know what, we could do a bingo for Lori, but we need to do a specialized bingo,’" said Snader.

"I think Vera Bradley is one of the popular things right now," she added, referring to the quilted bags and accessories currently in fashion.

After making sure Biechler approved of the idea, the close knit group of co-workers began working as a team to organize and promote the bingo, which will be held Feb.26 at the Ephrata Rec Center at 1 p.m.

They hope to sell 280 tickets for the event and raise enough money for at least one of the needed supports. Businesses have been donating door prizes and raffle items, and refreshments will also be available for purchase.

Biechler is their inspiration, as stated in their fundraising team letter:

"Lori could easily just not work and probably be eligible for financial help from other means, but she continues to work full-time with a positive attitude and never complains about her multiple limitations."

Biechler has been overwhelmed by the support.

"Just to think that they wanted to go together to do this for me is amazing," she said. "It makes me feel good because it tells me that somebody does care. They just want to help."

Diagnosed at age 3, Biechler has lived her whole life with physical challenges. She and her sister were both diagnosed with congenital Cholesteatomas, destructive and expanding growths which attack the ear.

Biechler credits her parents for instilling within her a positive attitude.

"My parents never gave up," she said. "They brought us up that way, that we need to be strong for ourselves and always think that there is someone out there that (has) it worse than we have."

In high school, Biechler was a leader in the Junior National Association for the Deaf, encouraging others with disabilities to work hard and face their challenges.

After her husband died unexpectedly in 1998, Biechler welcomed an 8-week-old black Labrador puppy into her heart and home.

"She was like my child. She was always my companion, my second side," she said of Abby. "I had grown up with everyone always around me. When (my husband) passed away, I was lonely. I needed something to fill that."

Abigail was not trained to be a service dog, but filled the role of a helper — barking loudly when someone came to the door, even alerting Biechler one night when a family member had fallen and needed help. After 12 years together, she misses Abigail and looks forward to a new helper and companion.

Biechler will be working with Red Fern Canines, based in Harrisburg, to find and train her hearing dog, who will communicate with her by using different types of nudges and barks. The hope is to find the perfect dog for Biechler — a greyhound whose size will also provide added stability and security.

The entire office is excited to meet the "new baby," declared Snader.

Biechler said she still can’t believe it’s all going to happen on her behalf.

"It’s inspiring … to know that there are people who really do care and want to support me," she said.

If you would like to support Lori Biechler, contact Ann Snader at 733-9327 or Jeannie Stahl at 669-8318 for tickets or more information on how you can help.

Sponsored by the Ephrata Lions Club, the Vera Bradley Bingo will be held Feb. 26 at the Ephrata Rec Center. Doors open at 12 p.m. and bingo begins at 1. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 at the door. Additional bingo cards will be on sale for $5. All proceeds will help provide a service dog and hearing device for Biechler. More FRIEND, page A16

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