New wheels

For most people, taking a trip to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., is only a matter of getting in their car and driving.

But until Tuesday, for Clara Arias, of Fort Dodge, it wasn’t that simple.

The problem? No car.

She has one now. It’s a 1996 Nissan Ultima donated through the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way’s Wheels for Health program and Fort Dodge Ford Toyota.

In August of 2012, Arias’ daughter, Cynthia Canton, 16, was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called Catastrophic Antiphospolipid Syndrome.

It causes the victim to make blood clots that can lead to a host of serious problems, including congestive heart and other organ failures.

“The first time she was there a month,” Arias said.

Canton has had several surgeries, one to install a stent for her three-times-a-week dialysis and another to replace an artery leading to her kidney.

She needs one more: a kidney transplant.

For Arias, receiving a reliable vehicle to get herself and her daughter to Rochester has been a blessing.

“I didn’t have the money to get a good car,” she said. “I feel peace.”

Randy Kuhlman, chief executive officer of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, said the program has been in operation for more than 10 years. The intent, of both the Wheels for Health and its sister program, Wheels for Work, is to provide people of limited means the ability to get to medical care outside the immediate community and also to work, he said.

They partner with Upper Des Moines Opportunity to find suitable recipients for the cars. This year’s employee campaign at Trinity Regional Medical Center is focused on providing funding for the program. A donation of a vehicle to the program is also tax deductible.

Making sure the cars are road worthy, safe and ready to go is something Fort Dodge Ford Toyota handles.

Matt Johnson, general manager, said Arias’ car got an oil change and a full inspection.

“We checked it to make sure it’s going to be a good reliable vehicle,” he said.

The dealership donates the labor and any necessary parts. He said they’ve processed about 40 cars since the program’s inception.

“We enjoy being able to help and participate,” he said.

Meredee Steburg came along Tuesday to watch her friend pick up her new car. Steburg is the parts coordinator at Nestle Purina Pet Care Co. She met Arias at the plant where Arias works for a cleaning contractor.

Co-workers there have stepped up several time to help Arias when times were tough.

Steburg said she happy when she heard about the car.

“We cried,” she said.

To donate a vehicle to the program, contact Matt Johnson at 576-7505.