Student architects help U alum

A student group is working to make a U alum’s home accessible.

Minnesota alumnus John Carter Holmes enters his home Saturday in South Minneapolis. More modifications to Holmes's home will be completed by Freedom by Design members to make his house more accessible.

Anthony Kwan

Minnesota alumnus John Carter Holmes enters his home Saturday in South Minneapolis. More modifications to Holmes’s home will be completed by Freedom by Design members to make his house more accessible.

Cody Nelson

For University of Minnesota alumnus John Carter Holmes, everything in his home is “an obstacle course.”

In 2008, the 63-year-old Minneapolis native suffered a heart attack that left him unable to walk on his own. After spending three months recovering in the hospital, Holmes was left to live alone in his inaccessible childhood home.

In 2011, a University student group, Freedom by Design, heard about Holmes’ predicament and began making his home more accessible by installing door modifications and grab bars.

Group members said the modifications will be done soon.

Freedom by Design is a community service program within the University’s chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students. The group is made up mostly of architecture students that use their architecture and construction skills to help low-income people or people with disabilities in the community.

“There are so many community service organizations around that cannot handle the number of people that need help,” said Don Keshika De Saram, the group’s co-chair.

The group does all of its work for free and relies on grants and donations from the AIAS, architecture firms and supply stores.

“Our overall goal is to improve dignity, comfort and safety,” Saram said.

Holmes needs to use a walker to move and said that the group’s work has been very helpful for his mobility.


‘All I can do is dream’

Before 2008, Holmes lived an active life.

He said he ran track at Washburn High School in Minneapolis and continued his running career at the University.

In 1969, he was a part of the University’s Big Ten-champion cross country team. After graduating from the University with a psychology degree, Holmes spent time in California before moving back to Minneapolis, where he found work officiating high school and college athletics.

Holmes continued running competitively and was set to compete in a pentathlon at the World Masters  track championship in Paris in March 2008, which he said he was expected to win.

Holmes said he had wanted to visit France since he was a student and returned to the University to take French lessons before the competition.

While training at the University Field House  in February 2008, a buildup of cholesterol completely blocked blood flow to Holmes’ heart, causing a heart attack that landed him in the hospital for months.

With odds stacked against him, Holmes survived the attack after open heart surgery. But he still lives with complications like a loss of balance that forces him to use a walker.

Holmes said the worst part is that the heart attack left him without a sense of taste.

“I haven’t tasted anything for five years,” he said.

His diet now consists mainly of small amounts of cereal, soup and canned chicken, he said, because it’s hard for him to swallow.

In addition to ending his running career, the heart attack rendered Holmes unable to pursue his other passion: woodworking. His home is filled with elaborate works of art, all cut, drawn and painted by Holmes before the heart attack.

“All I can do is dream,” he said.

Freedom by Design’s modifications to his home are helping though. The work they have done makes it “real easy” to get around, Holmes said.

Modifications to the home will be completed soon, according to Amanda Holst, an officer for the student group. She said they still plan to put in a screen door, another door modification and a handle to help Holmes get out of his back door.