WELLINGTON – The gash is thick, sewn up and swollen like a seam on a pant leg.
It starts at the lower lip, stretches across his chin, curves into a slow arc that runs across his jawbone, and then heads to his chest until it stops in a hook shape above his breast bone.
|STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE|
|Roy Teter with his granddaughter Ashley, 10, at his home in Brighton Township. Teter has throat cancer, and Ashley wrote a letter to The Chronicle asking for help.|
The man with the new scar is Roy Teter, a hardscrabble truck driver from Wellington who used to pay his bills on time, used to work harder than the other drivers, used to play football with his grandkids.
More than once, Roy helped a perfect stranger before himself.
Teter`s family – a wife, four sons and daughters-in-law, and 15 grandchildren – say Teter once saw a man eating from a garbage bin; he took the guy home and gave him a place to stay until the man landed a job.
“He`s always thinks of other people first,” said Darlene Teter, Roy`s granddaughter. “He makes Christmases beautiful for his kids and grandkids.”
One of those granddaughters, Ashley Teter, is a spry, blue-eyed 10-year-old with a fierce heart.
In a letter she sent recently to The Chronicle-Telegram, Ashley sought help for the man she`s always known to be the one helping others.
“I`m writing this letter for help. See, my grandma and grandpa have always taken care of there (sic) kids and us grand children,” Ashley wrote. “My grandpa is in the hospital he had a really bad surgery — Grandma and Grandpa need help now, with medical bills and utility bills and the family is not able to help them.”
Four months ago, Roy Teter saw a bump on his neck. A visit to the doctor told him the bump was cancer in his mouth and throat.
“It came all of a sudden,” said Willa, Roy Teter`s wife.
A heavy smoker who hauled steel around a hub of Rust Belt states five days a week, Roy was the epitome of self-reliance – always optimistic and hard-working, Willa said.
She met him at Cascade Park in Elyria 35 years ago, when he hollered at her and whistled.
“Been with him ever since,” Willa said, smiling.
Family members were quiet, almost caught off guard, when asked why Roy didn`t have health insurance. But he was self-employed, 55 and relatively healthy, save for a truck driver`s belly.
“He had to have major surgery,” Willa said.
Surgeons removed his teeth and jawbone, replacing the jawbone with a bone sawed from his leg. He was released from the hospital three weeks ago but will be bedridden for a year, Willa said.
Today, Roy lies supine and speechless in a wide bed inside his state Route 18 home. He can`t talk and he can`t move. But he can cry.
Roy cried quietly and grabbed Ashley`s hand on Thursday, as the girl crawled into bed next to him.
“I don`t know,” Ashley said, asked why she wrote the letter. “Grandpa and Grandma are always helping other people. He had all these bills coming, and I wanted to do something to help him.”
Family members say they had no idea Ashley wrote the letter, but they weren`t surprised.
“Ashley is a thinker,” they said.
The girl spent a few hours in her room last month, writing the letter that in some ways said it all, but also only scratched the surface of her grandfather`s predicament.
Roy Teter is still waiting for a hospital bed, but the hospital won`t send one because the bed has to be purchased in advance, Willa said.
“The nurse even called and told them to send one, and they still haven`t sent it,” Willa said.
A feeding tube pumps a milky substance into Roy`s stomach, a mixture that runs about $300 a case. He eats two cases a week.
And Roy is also waiting to start chemotherapy, but he can`t afford the treatment. Medicaid assistance won`t kick in for another four to six months, Willa said.
The family said they`ve tried churches, community organizations and nonprofits, but have had little luck.
“I just got a foreclosure notice this week,” Willa said, crying and adjusting her husband`s feeding tube. “On Tuesday, they`re coming to take the (Chevy) Blazer if we can`t make the payment. We just don`t know what to do.
“I try to explain to them, â€˜Can you just give me a little more time?` ” Willa said. “They say no. It just seems — people just don`t care.”
One of Roy`s tractor-trailers sits in the driveway of the home, a “For Sale” sign taped to the front windshield.
“This all just kind of hits you, smacks you in the face,” Darlene said. “You`re always just thinking of the good things to come – you don`t think of the bad things.”
Ashley, however, was thinking of the good things.
“I just want Grandpa to get better,” she said. “And do all the things he could do before.”