Rowan is three years old and has Cerebral Palsy. Engineering students at Mercer University in Macon, GA, are building him a car to use as another mobility aid. He currently uses a walker to get around. While this is a thoughtful gesture, the car won’t be practical for Rowan as he grows. The car won’t last beyond his toddler years and won’t provide the support he needs.
I can’t help but wonder if Rowan needs a wheelchair and health insurance won’t provide it. Cillian Jackson of Minnesota needed a power wheelchair. His parents couldn’t afford one, and insurance didn’t cover it. A local high school robotics team built him one at no charge. However, it is simply an adapted Fisher-Price Power Wheels toy. A toy is not meant to be medical equipment.
In Arkansas, Tanner Wilson saved up for two years to purchase a power wheelchair for his classmate. Brandon Qualls had been using a manual wheelchair before that. In 2019, Tanner surprised Brandon with a power wheelchair.
The wheelchair was a basic model and improperly fitted for Brandon. Brandon used a pillow as a seat cushion. A pillow won’t help prevent pressure injuries or provide comfort. An ill-fitting wheelchair can have devastating consequences.
Engracia Figueroa, a prominent advocate for disability rights, died on October 31st, 2021, at 51. Following a flight to Washington D.C, Figueroa discovered that United Airlines employees had accidentally damaged her wheelchair. Figueroa had trouble sitting up and balancing without her wheelchair.
Figueroa ended up getting a pressure sore that worsened because she had to use a wheelchair that didn’t support her torso and hips. The infection spread to her hip bone when this sore became infected. She underwent surgery, but it was too late. Tragically, the infection took her life.
In 2021, I created a GoFundMe page for the iLevel technology on my power chair. While I am eternally grateful that my community raised money for me, I was also saddened that insurance wouldn’t pay for iLevel.
Unfortunately, fundraising for medical expenses is all too common. According to the CEO of the fundraising website GoFundMe, approximately 33% of all donations go towards paying for medical expenses.
Insurance companies should not deny critical equipment to disabled and chronically ill people. People should not have to raise money or rely on acts of kindness to survive. For millions of people worldwide, healthcare is a matter of life or death.
Brooks, Laken. “Disability Advocate Engracia Figueroa Died after an Airline Damaged Her Wheelchair.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Nov. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/lakenbrooks/2021/11/08/disability-advocate-engracia-figueroa-died-after-an-airline-damaged-her-wheelchair/?sh=722eb0f310d7.
Cha, Jessica. “’Custom Car That’s Meant for Him’: Mercer Engineering Students Create Toy Cars for Disabled Kids.” WMAZ, TEGNA Inc., 11 Feb. 2023, https://www.13wmaz.com/article/news/local/mercer-engineering-students-create-toy-cars-for-disabled-kids 93-7936e81a-26a6-4d42-8960-2fd7fd8e3a05.
Lam, Kristin. “A 2-Year-Old Minnesota Boy’s Family Couldn’t Afford a Costly Power Wheelchair. These Students Built It for Him.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 3 Apr. 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/04/02/minnesota-robotics-team-builds-powered-wheelchair-2-year-old-boy/3347593002/.
Martinez, Gina. “GoFundMe CEO: One-Third of Fundraisers Are for Medical Costs.” Time, Time Inc, 30 Jan. 2019, https://time.com/5516037/gofundme-medical-bills-one-third-ceo/.
Patterson, Thom. “A Teen Saves for 2 Years to Buy His Friend an Electric Wheelchair.” CNN, Warner Bros., 5 Mar. 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/05/us/teen-gives-friend-electric-wheelchair-trnd/index.html.