Clinton Township woman who died in fire was an advocate for the disabled
CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A 59-year-old Clinton Township woman who died from injuries sustained in a Jan. 18 house fire is remembered as a persistent advocate for people with physical disabilities.
Loreena Mary Minaudo, whose cerebral palsy required her to use a wheelchair, died after suffering severe burns and smoke inhalation in a blaze that morning at her single-story home.
Following news of her death, friends and colleagues remembered Minaudo as a staunch advocate for people with physical disabilities.
“She was a fiercely determined person,” said Fred Miller, who, as a state representative in 2005, sponsored legislation inspired by Minaudo. “She stubbornly refused to be relegated to second-class status because of her situation, and she was absolutely determined to embrace life and live life.”
Loreena’s Law, as it is called, allows people to sign their name legally using their fingerprint instead of an “X.” While the law applies to anybody, Miller, now a Macomb County commissioner, said it is particularly relevant to somebody who, like Minaudo, lacked the fine motor skills to sign his or her name because of a physical condition.
She marshaled support from the disability advocacy community and got Miller, a Democrat, and then-state Rep. Leon Drolet, a Clinton Township Republican, to push for the bill.
She lobbied state lawmakers to pass the legislation, even coming before a state legislative committee to testify on its behalf, and in the end, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed Loreena’s Law in December 2005.
The thought behind Loreena’s Law, Miller said, was that Minaudo knew that an “X,” which she was previously required to use in place of her signature, was easy to forge. And an “X” also came with the stigma that the signer was illiterate.
Minaudo was anything but illiterate.
She authored autobiographical books about her life dealing with cerebral palsy. Her titles include “A Cry for Education” and “A Life of Struggles,” not to mention having more than 40 children’s stories to her name.
“Her parents were very loving, supportive parents that did everything in their power to help their child along,” said niece Leslie Mazza.
As a child, her mother Jennie Minaudo had sat her down in front of a typewriter and instilled hope in her to become a writer, Mazza said. It could take her as long as a minute to push each key, but she was persistent.
“School was very difficult for her,” said nephew Tom Minaudo. “When she went to school, they didn’t have separate classes. She was right in with the general public, and it was hard.”
After growing up in St. Clair Shores, Loreena and Jennie Minaudo moved to Clinton Township in 1994. Jennie passed away in 2006, at the age of 93.
Since then, full-time professional caretakers had helped care for Loreena, even taking her on vacations.
It was a difficult contradiction. Her mind worked perfectly, but her cerebral palsy caused her to shake and made it difficult for her to speak and write, which left some to falsely conclude that she had a mental disability. One of her biggest things was explaining to people that she wasn’t mentally disabled, Tom Minaudo said.
“She was a very intelligent woman, but she couldn’t express herself with words,” he said.
She often used an alphabet placemat to spell out words.
The Jan. 18 fire at her home on the 42000 block of Biland Drive was determined to have originated in the kitchen, the cause apparently being a combustible item on the stove, said Clinton Township Fire Marshal Steve Conroy.
Fire department personnel were dispatched shortly after 6:45 a.m. to the home after receiving a 911 call from the alarm company.
The alarm company also phoned Tom Minaudo, who lived around the corner and, getting to the home first, was met at the door by a wall of smoke. He crawled into the kitchen, found her lying on the floor on fire, used his coat to extinguish the flames on her, and, trying to stay low, dragged her outside, he said.
Paramedic-trained firefighters arriving on the scene focused foremost on trying to save the severely injured woman’s life; two firefighters accompanied her in the ambulance to the hospital. She passed away late that afternoon at Detroit Receiving Hospital.
There was substantial damage to the home. No one else was in the house at the time, and there was no damage to any surrounding homes, he added.
Despite Loreena Minaudo’s accomplishments, her physical limitations came with depression, which she opened up about in her book “Depression Has No Heart.” Her difficulty communicating isolated her, in a way, and her dream of someday being married was never realized, family members said.
“Unfortunately there’s no cure for cerebral palsy,” Mazza said. “The family did endless, endless sessions of trying to pull her out of (depression), but unfortunately we were not able to.”
Still, her niece and nephew hope that others take away a message of acceptance from her life and works. Mazza encouraged people not to shy away from a disabled person.
“Embrace them. Show them love, understanding and compassion,” she said. “They’re just like the rest of us. They just need love, and society doesn’t always understand disabilities.”
Tom Minaudo said his aunt tried to educate others about how hard it was to live day by day.
“It’s important to keep Loreena’s memory alive by reaching out to folks with a disability and treating them as equals,” Miller added.