Roy French says he doesn’t want anything special for Christmas. “I’d be happy with a Christmas card with our name on it,” he says in a way that makes you believe he really means it.
It is a simple request for someone who has endured so much: the sudden death of his beloved wife, Melissa Santos, in 2017; losing their apartment in Aiea; and more recently, the amputation of his right leg, rendering him jobless and trying to support three children on his disability income.
The family was doing well as recently as four years ago. But Santos, who suffered a number of heart ailments, sometimes didn’t take all her medication, despite French’s urging.
A heart specialist had recommended a new procedure and all seemed well until one evening when he was at work and Santos wouldn’t answer his calls or texts. As he was driving home from work the next morning, the children called to say she hadn’t gotten up to make breakfast, and they found her unresponsive and cold. French got home just as the ambulance was pulling up.
There was nothing that could be done.
Santos was 37 when she died. A caseworker for Goodwill Industries, she tried to find jobs for those in need. “Everybody that she met, that she touched, thought she was special,” French said.
The family was able to stay in their apartment rent-free for a few months, thanks to their kindly landlady who brought them food and clothes. But after her own husband died, she decided to sell the property and move to the mainland, and French had to relocate to his brother’s home in Waianae. The family stays in an enclosed lanai, which is comfortable but crowded.
French, a powerful-looking but soft-spoken man who played high school football, was doing well in his job in loss prevention at Walmart, where he’d worked since 2012.
In May, French was at his brother’s home when he decided to get some groceries out of his car parked on the street. Barefoot, he crossed the hot pavement, then padded back to the house. A few minutes later, he saw the floor under his right foot was wet. French said a “giant” blister had formed on the sole of his foot and burst.
“It was a matter of seconds,” he said. “That’s how hot it was.”
Within days, his foot was swollen and sore. French started receiving antibiotics intravenously, but the infection quickly spread to the bone and threatened to progress up his leg. In September, his leg was amputated below the knee.
French now gets around in a wheelchair, and while he likely will be getting a prosthetic leg, he probably cannot return to his former position because it requires walking and sometimes running after shoplifters. Although Walmart is looking at other jobs for him, French can’t drive to work yet.
He would need either a car equipped with hand controls or one adapted with left-foot pedals.
“Don’t have the motor skills (to learn to drive a regular vehicle). I’m not ambi- foot-dexterous,” French said, still in good humor despite his travails.
He could use an electric scooter and some clothes — Hawaii’s Finest is his favorite brand — but he especially wants a good Christmas for his three children. The two youngest, Chase, 12, and Matthias, 6, are into video games, using the Roblox game platform. Chase also would like a tablet or an iPad, and Matthias would like a bicycle.
Daughter Erin, 16, a sophomore at Waianae High School, hopes to become a mechanic — she helps her boyfriend work on his truck — and would like a gift card to a hair salon.
She also would really like hula lessons. Erin used to dance at church but hasn’t been able to find a teacher in Waianae. Asked what she likes about hula, the teen breaks into a big smile and laughs. “Everything,” she said.
Ultimately, French hopes to find a new place for his family. For now, he is doing his best to keep himself strong for his kids. He’s an optimist by nature.
“I’m one of those glass half-full kind of guys,” he said.
The annual Good Neighbor Fund, a charitable partnership between Helping Hands Hawaii, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and First Hawaiian Bank, helps struggling individuals and families during the holiday season. This year under the Adopt A Family Program, more than 500 families are seeking assistance with food, clothing, toys and household items. Donations to the Good Neighbor Fund also assist Helping Hands with operational costs for the nonprofit’s Community Clearinghouse Program, which helps people with basic necessities throughout the year.
Individuals may drop off cash or checks to the “Good Neighbor Fund” at any First Hawaiian Bank branch statewide until Dec. 31. To donate specifically to the French family, include the code: LT-WO-005.