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A ‘miracle’ deck for Ben

Contractor creates new stairs for Baldwin family

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A Suffolk County contractor has changed the lives of a Baldwin family.

Lance and Debi Livi’s 25-year-old son, Ben, was born with cerebral palsy, and is unable to walk without assistance. But he loves to walk around in the small, above-ground pool in their backyard, his parents said, because the buoyancy of the water allows him to walk by himself.

The small deck they had was useless for Ben, who does not speak, because he could not climb the ladder to the top to get into the pool, Lance and Debi said. Each time he went for a swim, they would lift him over the edge of the pool, and then rush in so he would have somebody in there with him.

“Once he’s in the pool,” Lance said, “he doesn’t need anybody to walk with at all.”

They decided they would replace the deck this year. They explained what they had in mind to Dominick Lacitignola, the owner of Hope Custom Builders, whom they found on Angie’s List, and asked him to design and create a deck that would make it easier for Ben to make his way to the top of the deck to get into the pool.

When he met Ben, Lance and Debi said, Lacitignola connected with him, and said he wanted to work on the project for him.

“And then we get his plan,” Lance said, “and I’m looking at the price, and I said, ‘This is incredibly low, I mean really super low.’”

Lacitignola agreed to do the work at no profit to him or his company — the only thing he asked the couple to pay for was the materials.

“Debi started getting misty,” Lance said. “And I’m like, wait a minute, people don’t do this. You know, people are trying to gouge at this point to make up where they lost money. This is at a time when people are losing money because of Covid, and this guy just did that in the middle of all this.”

“And his workmanship is amazing — everything from what they’ve created and the cleanup,” Debi said of Lacitignola and his team. “In three days, they were done, finished, cleaned up.”

Lacitignola designed a series of wide, durable platforms that lead to the top of the deck so Ben can slowly and easily ascend using the guardrails. Ben’s nurse aide began to cry when she saw it, Lance said.

But the real test, he said, was when they would show it to Ben, who motioned for his parents to bring him over to it. Ben slowly made his way up as his parents watched what was the first time he was able to get to the top without assistance.

“We started crying because, oh, this is a miracle,” Lance said. “My wife and I looked at each other and realized this was a moment we thought we’d never see. Dominick and his team saw an opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone who usually gets forgotten.”

The first contractor they reached out to wanted to charge the couple “an unbelievable amount of money,” Lance said. Then they had Lacitignola come by, he looked at the old deck and said he had an idea of what they needed. 

“When I first saw it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s twice the size I thought it would be,’” Debi said. “He made it so that somebody could walk with Ben up the steps. But my son decided I don’t need you, I know how to do this, and he uses both hands on the railing. Everything about it is perfect — the width of it and the height of the steps.”

“It’s unusual,” Lance said. “I don’t think anybody else has something like this. It’s one of those things you look at and you say this is kind of special.”

“I just wanted to do the right thing,” Lacitignola said. “I’m fortunately in a situation in my life, in my business, where I can afford to do that. And I wanted to, just to help them out.”

He said he has long had a soft spot in his heart for people with disabilities, adding that he could only imagine the added expenses the family has incurred for caretakers and different kinds of custom apparatuses for the house. And Lacitignola said he worked alongside Anthony and Brian, two carpenters who joined the effort.

These days, Lance said he and Debi try to bring Ben into the pool “every day that’s a good pool day.”

Ben sometimes gets antsy sitting inside, and his parents will notice he needs physical therapy. And while he typically goes to the Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County in Roosevelt for PT, these days Lance will help Ben with his therapy as the physical therapist tells him what to do via video chat.

“It’s like an amazing thing, because before it was very difficult for Ben to get in, and now he’s walking up there all by himself,” Lance said, “and now it’s very hard to get him out of the pool,” he laughed.