LOWELL — Facing single-digit temperatures Saturday, members of several local unions could be found in Pawtucketville donating their labor to help Army veteran Shawn Mulligan.
They were there to install a chair lift for Mulligan, who has had difficulty getting into his home for the past few months. Mulligan is battling multiple myeloma, which was discovered after he went to the doctor thinking he had gout.
In January 2021, Mulligan had rotator cuff surgery. After the surgery, he contracted MRSA, which was found in his rotator cuff, his heart and his lung. Doctors found it before it went to his other shoulder but the damage had been done to his ball and socket.
He continued to get septic, prompting a belief that it may be a complication of gout. It wasn’t until he saw an oncologist that he learned it was actually multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Recently, he also contracted COVID-19.
“Within the calendar year, I have had MRSA, cancer and COVID, but I’m still standing,” Mulligan said.
“But no gout,” his friend City Councilor Dan Rourke added, prompting a laugh from Mulligan.
In the past year, Mulligan has undergone seven different surgeries and he is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
Although he’s no longer able to walk and has limitations in the use of his shoulder and arm, Mulligan has maintained his sense of humor. Calls from friends and family have helped him stay positive. He’s still close with his friends from the Army and his old platoon sergeant.
Rourke knew about Mulligan’s situation and wanted to help. Because of the tight driveway on his Pawtucketville street, building a ramp to code wasn’t feasible. However, a chair lift would be.
After a conversation with his City Council colleague John Drinkwater, calls were made. Away from the City Council, Drinkwater works as a Senior Workforce Development Specialist for the Massachusetts American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
“My phone rang and it was Mr. Drinkwater,” said John Burrows, an organizer for the New England Carpenters Union Local 339 and a Billerica Select Board member.
“When do you want us and what do you need us to do?” Burrows answered.
Burrows said all of the materials were donated by Home Depot in Waltham. The carpenter’s union demolished brick steps at Mulligan’s home and replaced them with new wooden ones. The roof was also reworked for better rain drainage.
“Anything to make life for a veteran easier,” Burrows said.
Frank Aikens, business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 103, said members of his union were there to install a 20-volt circuit to a mounted fuse disconnect that would power the unit.
Tim Morgan, from the International Union of Elevator Constructors local 4, said the lift for Mulligan was part of a larger effort the elevator construction worker’s union had going. Lift For A Vet started with Local 5 in the Philadelphia area. So far, Morgan said he has been a part of about “a dozen” installs locally.
“What they do is they raise money and when there’s a disabled veteran anywhere in the country that needs a lift, they take that money and they buy the lift at no cost to the veteran,” Morgan said. “And then whichever area it’s in, the local elevator constructors will install it free of charge.”
Another local contractor, Alan Kazanjian, donated a dumpster to haul away the materials free of charge.
The lift will make an immediate difference for Mulligan, who has had difficulty getting into his home.
“I had to crawl up and down the stairs to keep my foot up, because I am still not weight-bearing on my foot,” Mulligan said.
Those who know Mulligan like Rourke and Rourke’s cousin, state Rep. Tom Golden, say he’s the first one to help out when someone is need.
“He’s a good friend. He’s one of those guys that’s never looking for the limelight,” Golden said.
One of Mulligan’s friends became paralyzed five years ago and Mulligan would get him to appointments. Now his friend wants to return the favor and help, even though he isn’t able to drive Mulligan to appointments.
“You never put yourself in that situation when you help somebody out and all of a sudden, I’m in that situation now,” Mulligan said. “I have a hard time dealing with it sometimes, because now I’m here and that was me doing that for him now. You know, it’s kind of tough.”
In December, there were two fundraisers held for Mulligan, which were organized in part by Rourke and their friend Kathy Ryder. She also credited Sandy Lopalato, Danielle DeMato and Melissa Sawtell with the fundraiser’s success.
The two events combined raised about $43,000 and both events contributed an almost equal amount to the total. Mulligan also received a $7,500 donation from the Durkin Foundation.
Initially, Ryder said the family was hesitant about receiving the support because they are proud and hard working. One event was held online and another was held in-person at the VFW on Plain Street. Owen & Ollies Restaurant & Pub helped promote and coordinate the event.
Ryder said people participated in an auction, which included baskets and even an airline ticket. Golden played the role of auctioneer.
The money can be used to help renovate other aspects of Mulligan’s home, including his bathroom, which is not easily accessible.
“Everybody loves him. His kids are everything to him, he’s the guy who never misses a lacrosse game, never misses the football games,” Ryder said. “He is that guy who is in the school parking lot, chatting with other parents. He’s just so friendly and funny. He’s just a really, really great guy.”