"Where did this come from?" Melanie Monroe cried as her husband, Paul, wheeled her up the new ramp. Then her eyes followed the ramp. Her hand flew to her mouth.
"Oh...Oh!...Oh! This...this is so wonderful....Is this really my house?"
Tears. Tears of joy. Tears from months of pain. Tears from an accident that burned her critically, leaving her with one arm and one leg and changing her life forever. And in the shadow of a 7-foot Christmas tree twinkling with tiny, clear lights and ornaments, tears for this loving gift from unseen strangers.
Monroe's 2-hour-old, 16-by-30 bedroom addition includes a wall of windows so she can enjoy the view of the back yard. Stretching from wall to wall is a white carpet – sans padding -- so her wheelchair can be easily mobile on it. White walls catch every ray of sunshine, and an air conditioner will tame summer's heat.
Even the hallways were widened so she can be a mommy and tuck her 3-year-old son, Evan, into bed again, as she used to.
It is a gift to help her get her life back.
* * * * *
In early February, Monroe's accident happened in seconds.
She remembers riding in the ambulance after 7,620 volts of electricity had surged through her body. She remembers mumbling that she didn't want to die.
"I remember hearing my daughter telling me, `You're going to be OK, Mommy, you're going to be OK,' " she said.
When she woke again, she felt pain like she's never known before. And her right arm and leg were gone, amputated to save her life.
As most of Kansas City struggled through Feb. 2, 2002, grumbling about no hot water or heat, Monroe was fighting to live.
An ice-laden power line, the remnant of a severe ice storm days earlier, had snapped above her family's car as they were loading laundry into it. Like a sputtering snake, the line's electricity zapped through her body as she stood next to her car door. Her children, Evan, then 2, and Shelby, 9, were already in the car. Her husband, Paul, tried to throw things at the sparking wire to get it off his wife, but to no avail.
Monroe's burns were so bad that one rescue official doubted she'd make it.
But she did. And she has. Still, her daily life is a trial.
After six months of operations, therapies and yo-yoing emotions, she was released in August from the hospital. But at home her wheelchair didn't fit through many of the doorways. Existing in her 750-square-foot home meant living her life in inches and stilted hops, while still in severe pain as new skin replaced the old, scarred tissue.
She wasn't sure she could live at home anymore.
"But my husband pulled me up by my bootstraps and said, `This is our home,' " she said. "And my children have kept me going. My son has been all kisses and hugs. My daughter tells me at least 10 or 15 times a day she loves me. She wants to make sure I know....
"I have cried so many tears. Sometimes it's just so hard to get through."
On Christmas morning she cried some more.
"Baby, you should have seen this last night," said her husband, Paul, who had brought her a towel to wipe the tears from her face as he told her what he had seen sporadically through the preceding night.
Almost 24 hours earlier construction had begun, he said. Crews in coveralls and insulated sweatpants arrived in teams, focusing on one chore. About 250 elves, otherwise known as regular men and women in the Kansas City area, worked side by side and sometimes knee by knee.
As night set in, along with bone-chilling, 15-degree weather, the Monroe home was illuminated brighter than a Chiefs football game by three towers of lights. Generators roared on either side of the home, but neighbors didn't complain. A propane heater looking like a silver missile with a blue flame kept workers warm as it sat in the middle of the construction site.
As in a slapstick comedy, elves ducked to avoid getting knocked over by other elves carrying 8-foot boards hoisted on their shoulders. Elf painters rolled paint as elf electricians installed outlets in freshly painted areas.
Just watching the addition evolve was a miracle. Turf battles on this night were nonexistent.
"This would never happen on a regular job," laughed one elf construction foreman around 2:30 a.m. as he drank yet another soda. "Guys are bumping into each other, starting to get mad and then stopping and saying, `Oh, excuse me, Merry Christmas.' Everyone here is thinking about the end result."
Although there were several temporary setbacks -- the lights blew out around 5 a.m. and the dry wall was taking longer than estimated -- the addition was 99 percent completed by 6 a.m. Only a few finishing touches remain, and they will be completed within the next few days.
But for Monroe, the finishing touches are already completed. As she took in the scene before her, her children laughed and played with a new Christmas present. Bright sunshine spilled in from the wide picture window. Her sister, Michelle Manning; her mother, Chiquita Coggs; and a neighbor wiped away tears. Monroe looked at it all, then nodded her head, answering an unspoken question.
"Mommy, I do believe," she said with a smile, as her mother hugged her once more. In Monroe's hand were two gifts: a tiny card that said Merry Christmas, from The Carpenter; and a bracelet from her mother with a charm saying only Believe.
"Mommy, I have lived through two miracles."
By LEE HILL KAVANAUGH
The Kansas City Star