4-wheel drive wheelchair

Hope or Regret: The 4-Wheel Drive Powerchair Debate

Powerchair
I know you’ve heard the phrase, “One person’s junk is another one’s treasure.” I have a new one for you: “One person’s hope is another one’s regret.”

Four-wheel drive powerchair

We have a $12,000 monstrosity my husband calls his four-wheel drive powerchair. We bought this large paperweight in 2009 but never used it because it came programmed incorrectly. Advertised as able to climb stairs, speed through sand, and out-maneuver muddy driveways without a hitch, the Predator is a basic, metal framed chair with no padding or seat, equipped with headlights, turn signals, a horn, and the ability to raise or lower its height. It’s very ugly. However, at the time, similar models were not available for the stated price in America, and Lynn desperately wanted a way to be able to go fishing. Continue reading at: https://multiplesclerosis.net/caregiver/hope-regret-powerchair/

Pathway to Power (Chair)

Powerchair

As Lynn’s multiple sclerosis has progressed over the years, we have gone though many different mobility assistive devices. Each has been a tremendous help but at each stage along the way, Lynn has resisted using them. Looking back, I wonder if he knew then what he knows now would it have made a difference?

For example, Lynn obviously had MS long before he was diagnosed with it. By the time he had an official diagnosis, he was having frequent falls, extreme fatigue, and difficulty standing upright. He grilled every night, rain or shine. To make it from the deck to the bedroom where he would watch television, he had to hold onto the hallway walls the entire distance. We have a dark smudge the width of his hand print all the way down the hall. I tried encouraging him to use a cane but he insisted he didn’t need one. I would regularly hear him fall. Each time I would yell, “Anything broken or bleeding?” As long as the answer was no, I would leave him alone to get up on his own (until I would hear the volume or frequency of swear words indicate it was time to step in). Finally, one day he proudly told me when I came home that he had seen a cool Irish walking stick on the internet which he had ordered. I think because it was “cool” it was okay for him to use it.

Before too long, the walking stick didn’t seem to be enough. Not only was there an issue with balance but his fatigue was so significant that any distance walking was very difficult. He would be so tired just from walking from where he parked his truck to our house, that the fatigue alone would cause his leg to give out and down he would go. If the leg didn’t give out, then he was battling the spasticity which kept him from being able to bend the leg at all. In either case, it was difficult to get him from the vehicle to the house or anywhere else. I suggested using a wheelchair which was absolutely rejected as an option. One day one of our friends showed up with a rollator (rolling walker). I told her he would likely reject the gift but since he didn’t want to offend her, he accepted it though initially he did refuse to use it. He refused, that is, until one day he fell and was too tired to get back up. I suggested he allow me to push him in the rollator, and he agreed.

After that night he allowed the use of the rollator if he needed to go a distance. I used it like a wheelchair. It was still off limits to mention the “w” word but he would allow me to push him around in the rollator. I actually pushed him around more than he walked. He really needed a wheelchair but could not bring himself to admit it. Then we had a couple of incidents where I hit something as I was pushing him along and we both went tumbling over. A rollator is just not sturdy enough to roll over cable or other object without it causing a complete stop, which, if I was unprepared for the abrupt halt, would result in us both going over. It was only when I almost got hurt from such a fall that he finally agreed to a wheelchair.

Our first wheelchair was a hand-me-down that did not have legs. I would lift his legs and pull him rather than push him. I insisted he needed a real wheelchair and he chose one he could propel himself (with the large wheels in back). He honestly tried to move himself around in it but it was apparent fairly quickly that he didn’t have the hand, arm, or shoulder strength to do that.

Having a wheelchair was a big improvement for getting him from place to place but he was dependent on my pushing him and it was fairly uncomfortable. At the time, he was getting physical therapy trying to help with regaining some strength and function in his limbs when one of the physical therapist suggested he attend a wheelchair clinic to look into a power chair. I’m so glad we took her advice.

The power chair clinic was an eye opener. I learned that wheelchairs are like clothes; you need to get measurements and pick them to fit the person. The sales rep was very familiar with MS and suggested he would need one that would allow his legs to lift and a tilt function as well as a head rest. He didn’t see the need but she convinced him that he needed to get it now while the insurance was paying for the initial chair because it would be very difficult to get it later. I’m very glad we listened to her advice because in just a few months, he needed all those features to manage.

Now his wheelchair is as much a part of him as his clothing and when it breaks, it’s a major catastrophe for us. We were recently without the tilt feature for two weeks and it was horrible. The tilt really helps me as much as him because when he tilts back, it removes gravity’s influence and it’s so much easier for me to take off his clothes or shift his position. His upper body is weaker now too so it’s difficult for him to hold his head up and not slump forward without the use of the tilt. In fact, after just two hours without it, he was really hurting and miserable. Fortunately, we had a portable access ramp that I was able to use to create an incline. It was a complicated process to set him up with this make-shift tilt but it worked. However, I must say, I felt like throwing a party when the tilt system arrived and was re-installed last week.

The last mobility device we have bought for his use is, unfortunately, one that he has never been able to use. He found a 4-wheel drive wheelchair designed by Radical Mobility in South Africa that could be used to maneuver through sand and other outdoor terrain. This awesome wheelchair was very expensive ($12,000 and not covered by insurance) but it would allow him to again participate in his favorite pastime-surf fishing. He ordered it but it never worked in the sand nor did it have the power necessary to carry Lynn up a ramp. The company said it needed to be reprogrammed and to send the controller back to them. That was four years ago and they have refused to return the controller despite our many attempts to get it back.

continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/caregiver/pathway-power-chair/

Thinking of Buying 4WD Wheelchair? Don't Buy from Radical Mobility!

When Lynn first lost his ability to walk, what he missed the most was fishing.  He loved to surf fish. At least four times a year, we would take a long weekend and go to Cape Hatteras for him to fish.  It didn’t matter if it was raining, cold, or hot, he would pack up his fishing gear and take to the sand.  Me–I would pack a good book and relax!  At night we ate what he caught or we went out for seafood.
Our last trip was the weekend we found out he “officially” had MS. During that trip, he had extreme difficulty walking to the beach.  I helped him take his gear and get settled and spent a lot of time on the beach “just in case.” Once the sun went down, I went in but he continued to fish.  About an hour later, he came in soaking wet.  The tide had come in and he had lost his balance and been pulled under, filling his high water boots to the top and soaking through all layers of clothing. By that point he could not stand upright. He walked bent at the waist holding on to whatever was close by.  I helped him get in the rest of his gear and he took a shower.  Although we didn’t talk much about it, we had already been prepared by the doctor that he expected the results to be MS.  So in our hearts, we knew that life as we knew it then was about to change.
After his diagnosis, he was determined to keep doing the things he loved as long as possible.  He soon was using a rollator which had a seat and I was pushing him in it more than he was walking with it. After a few “spills” where I would hit a bump I could not see and he would go flying, he got a wheelchair and then a power chair.  He really liked the freedom the powerchair provided and began to do research on the possibility of a wheelchair that could go in the sand.  He decided that the one that seemed to have most of the features he needed was made by a company called, Radical Mobility (http://radicalmobility.com/) located in South Africa.  They advertised a really cool product.  The chair itself was sturdy, not particularly pretty, but it would rise straight up to see over objects and tilt back.  It had various speeds, and could go in sand, over inclines, up steps, and over rough terrain and still remain upright.  It had headlights, a horn, and adjustable headrest, arm rests, and legs.  It seemed to be just what he needed to be able to continue to surf fish. 
At that same time he was approved for disability by social security and received his back pay check.  It was just enough to cover the cost of the chair (almost $13,000 including shipping). We hated to spend that much but prayed about it and felt that buying the chair was putting our faith in the possibilities of future pleasures and realized dreams. He ordered the chair giving the specifications he needed.  It took about four months to build and it was shipped in  early May of 2010.  We were due to go on vacation the last week of July.  Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive till September due to sitting in customs waiting to be ruled as “safe” and not a terrorist device.  At that same time, Lynn had developed a misdiagnosed urinary track infection.  He was feeling worse and worse, losing his energy level steadily. 
When we got word that the wheelchair was being delivered, he was too sick to check it out.  The truck driver could not get up our driveway with his tractor-trailer. He unloaded it at the end of our drive way. The shabby crate it was in had holes punched in the sides and by the time it was unloaded from the truck, it was an easy push on the poorly constructed crate to take it apart and get the wheelchair out.  The instructions were very basic and poorly written.  I had a very difficult time figuring out how to operate it so I could load it onto a trailer behind my car to take it to the house. (It was not completely assembled so I could not drive it to the house.)
I got the parts assembled, put it in neutral and “walked” it into the house. Since each tire moved independently, it was very difficult to drive within the close quarters of the house and to make the turns, I had to lift it around corners.  I parked it in the living room hoping Lynn would be able to try it out in a few days…
Fast forward to July. From September to July, Lynn was in and out of the hospital and recuperating from his lengthy admissions. Hoping that being able to us the wheelchair would give Lynn something special to look forward to, we decided to take it with us to the beach even though Lynn had not had a chance to drive it. He really wanted to use it to at least “walk” along the beach or fish from the pier.
Two nights after our arrival we decided to try it out.  We backed it out of the van and I put Lynn in it.  He drove around the parking lot a little to get a feel for it and then tried to drive it up the ramp so we could take it to the beach access area.  He couldn’t get it to drive up the ramp!  He weighted too much (keep in mind he had lost a lot of weight in the hospital so he maybe weighed 165 lbs).  My lightweight daughter could drive it up the ramp but not him (we knew she could because she had loaded it into the van initially.)  We finally pushed it manually up the ramp and into the van because we were determined to try it on the sand.  We got to the access area and he drove it out of the van into the sand.  It went across the parking lot to the sandy area and stalled. It would not go forward or backwards. Stuck!  No movement at all!  I had to drive back to the condo, get his transfer wheelchair, transfer him from the dead chair to the manual chair, and then we pushed the dead chair into the van. How disappointed we all were!  I felt like crying.  He was heart-broken.
So we came home and tried to contact Radical Mobility to get it fixed.  We sent emails and got a response that someone would return our inquiry shortly. We waited…and waited… and waited.  Nothing.  We sent another email.  Again we waited.  We figured out the salesman we bought the chair from had left the company when I went to their Facebook page, so we tried the “contact us” email.  Same thing.  Someone named Martin was supposed to contact us.  Nothing came.  We repeated the process several times.  Finally Martin responded and said send them the joystick, cables and motor.  We had a question about what exactly was needed, again several weeks of sending emails with no response and finally we got the instructions.
We sent the parts to their location in South Africa. No word for months.  Then finally in April of last year (2012), he said it was fixed and was being sent back to us.  He cautioned it might take a while before we got it due to a postal strike in South Africa.  That was eleven months ago and we still do not have the motor back.  We have a gutted wheelchair sitting in our living room with no way to power it up.  We have emailed Radical Mobility regularly since last April to ask for tracking information and help with locating our motor and no response. Occasionally we have gotten an email back saying they are checking on it and will get back but they don’t.
This machine was built in South Africa.  They do not have an American facility.  We have no way that we know of to get the motor back.  We are now searching for another manufacturer who might be able to build a comparable motor that could be installed so we can use the wheelchair. I’m sure it will cost us several thousand to get the necessary parts programmed, built, shipped and installed.
I feel betrayed.  This company is owned and the machines designed by someone who is paralyzed. He knows the struggles of the immobility challenged.  How can he treat fellow disabled individuals so shabbily? It’s unethical and wrong on so many fronts.  He took our $13,000 and gave us a large statue for our living room. It’s worthless. But the worth part is he shattered Lynn’s dream.  We cannot afford another chair. That was his only hope for getting a chair to use in the sand. This company does not even respect us enough to communicate with us; they just ignore us completely.
So if you or anyone you know is considering buying an all terrain wheelchair, please warn them not to buy one from Radical Mobility.  They will take your money and not give you what you paid for.  Their customer service is not even marginally present and their product just plainly does not work.  Do not be fooled by the claims on their website, their Facebook page, their Tweets or their blog.  Do Not Buy From Them. 
I have never written a negative review like this before but my conscience just keeps telling me to warn others.  I hope I have helped someone else from making the same costly mistake we made.

Just Say "No"?

I have never been one to find it easy to say, “no.”  I’m a people pleaser, I guess, but I find delight in making others happy and I enjoy helping people.  However, I guess for my own sake, and, maybe sometimes even for theirs, I should learn to say ‘no’ but how do you know when it’s the right time to do that?  Here’s some examples of times I’ve found it hard to say ‘no’ to Lynn.
When Lynn got his “back pay” from Social Security.
As is true for everyone, it took us long time to get social security benefits.  We had to wait until we could go before a judge who could see for himself that Lynn was totally disabled. So when he got his check, it was rather sizable.  At that time, he had not been in a wheelchair very long and still had good use of both arms.  Lynn loves to surf fish and he was looking ahead to vacation.  He wanted a way to still be able to surf fish and wondered if there was such a thing as a 4-wheel drive wheelchair.  He did some research and found just what he was looking for…in South Africa.  It could go over sand, climb steps, elevate his seat so he could look over things, had headlights, a horn, ahh…it was cool.  It gave him hope that he could continue to do what he enjoyed most in life for leisure time–fish.  But it was VERY expensive!  It would wipe out all the back pay if he bought it.  He really wanted it. To him it was a symbol that his disability would not wipe out his ability to have fun.  It represented freedom and gave him the feeling of being in control and out-smarting MS.  However, he felt guilty about using all that money for a toy.  He looked to me for permission to buy it.  What did I say?  “Yes,” of course.  How could I take away his hope? It was, after all, his money and not money we had already been counting on to pay bills (though secretly, I had several credit cards I wanted to pay off that I had run up with costs associated with his care). But, the main reason was I just could not take away his hope.
Was that the right decision? Yes for his mental health; no for our finances.  To this day, that machine has not worked.  We took it on one vacation and it would not move in the sand. We  sent the motor back to South Africa in March of this year and have yet to get it back.  Right now it’s a huge obstacle in my living room that has no motor and cannot function at all.  Had I known this, I would have said ‘no’ but not knowing this, his hope was more important to me than the cost.  Therefore, I still think it was the right decision because having hope when you are disabled is essential to life.
Purchasing a New Lift Device
Once again I’m faced with whether to say ‘no’ or participate in hope and once again, I’m going with hope.  Lynn wants very much to stand and if possible to walk, again.  Who wouldn’t want that?  He’s convinced that if he works his muscles well enough that he will be able to do so and that it is not the MS that has caused him not to be able to stand but the deconditioning he experienced when he was hospitalized two years ago for so long.  The doctors can’t say for sure though they believe that progression of his MS is the reason for his immobility.  However, with the change in his diet to following the Terry Wahl MS diet and his dedication to exercise, he truly is moving more than he has in years. Who’s  to say that he could not eventually stand if he was able to recondition all the necessary muscles?
The problem with reconditioning muscles necessary for standing is that there are so many of them.  Doing exercises to isolate one muscle group at a time requires considerably more energy than he has available.  Therefore, once again he has done his research and identified a device that will help him stand with assistance.  It’s called a Rifton TRAM. It allows the caregiver to put a saddle under the hips of the patient and gradually lift them to a standing position.  With the saddle in place, they have support in the amount needed to bear weight.  The advantage of this is that by bearing weight, he can activate more muscle groups plus the stress on the bones, makes the bones stronger.  Osteoporosis sets in when there is no stress to the bone and that causes bone deterioration which makes the person more susceptible to fractures.  So by using the TRAM not only could he strengthen muscles to stand on his own but could help prevent future bone fractures. 
We are in the process now of getting the information necessary to the insurance company.  However, even if they do not approve it, he still wants to buy it because he’s convinced of what he can achieve with it…and who am I to say he can’t?
What’s going through my head though?  Will he be crushed if he cannot stand and go into a deep depression?  Can we afford to pay the full price at a time when year-end bills are coming?  His son’s wedding is in four weeks and we have to prepare and pay for the rehearsal dinner as well as Lynn’s clothing and get their wedding present.  Christmas is coming which means presents.  And of course, there are the multiple bills that need to be paid.  Knowledge of all these needs causes me a lot of stress as I agree to buy the TRAM even if the insurance won’t pay. 
I really want it to work for him but I keep remembering that behemoth wheelchair in my living room and don’t want another useless device in my house so agreeing to this takes a lot of faith on my part.  I know however, that God will take us through whatever lies ahead and if it doesn’t work, He will help us both deal with that.  If it does work, then He will be gloried in helping us to get the device through faith. 
So, once again, I just say, “Yes.”