A car accident stole Philomena Russum's mobility. The oncoming driver turned left and smacked into her car, breaking her hip.
After hip replacement surgery, Russum found it difficult to walk on her own. She applied for, and received, a handicapped placard for her car, as her health continued to deteriorate.
A 2008 brain aneurysm led to another surgery, and complications from the operation resulted in a stroke.
Since then, she has suffered from dementia.
Now 80, Russum suffers from arthritis and spinal stenosis.
Needless to say, she needs some help getting around.
On Sept. 1, her granddaughter, Laurie Dombrowski, helped her fill out an application with the city for disabled parking signs in front of her Lincoln Park house.
The idea was to create a space in the 2000 block of North Racine Avenue, so Russum's husband or family members could help her into and out of the car.
But less than three weeks after submitting the application, things took a disheartening turn.
In replacing water pipes, the city dug up the street in front of Russum's home. In the process, it moved a fire hydrant that had been two doors south to a new spot — directly in front of Russum's house.
The new hydrant, installed Sept. 17, meant it was impossible to place the handicapped space in front of her house.
Once he realized what was going on, Russum's husband ran out and spoke to the workers.
"The contractor told my grandfather they were going to move it the next day," Dombrowski said.
When that didn't happen, Dombrowski began calling the city. At first, it seemed the city would move the hydrant back where it used to be.
"They told us they could move (it) down here," Dombrowski said, pointing to a spot near the old fire hydrant. "Then they dragged their feet, they dragged their feet and all of a sudden they said couldn't move it there."
Weeks passed with no movement. Although the city had not yet approved the handicapped space, Dombrowski became worried that when it did, it would be too late — that the hydrant would prevent the city from installing it in front of her grandmother's house.
Frustrated, Dombrowski emailed What's Your Problem? in early October.
She said her grandparents have lived in their house for 45 years and do not want to move. Placing the handicapped space in front of a neighbor's house would not work for several reasons, Dombrowski said.
Other available spots are near trees, fences or uneven ground, which would make it difficult for Russum to navigate, Dombrowski said. Even if a neighbor agreed to have the handicapped spot in front of his or her house, there was no guarantee the sidewalk would be promptly shoveled in winter, Dombrowski said.
"Life is difficult enough for them without adding this undue hardship. Something so small could make a huge difference in my grandparents' lives."