Wheels Of Mercy Story
I grew up in the typical “All American Family”. My Mom stayed home with myself and my three older sisters Phyllis, Natalie and Catherine until I was about three or four. Then my parents worked at the school they started together. We were financially successful and we lived in a big house in a beautiful neighborhood. Our family secret, as so many had back then, was that my mother suffered from chronic depression and she was an alcoholic. Her drunken behavior at family gatherings and especially at community social gatherings was a constant source of shame and embarrassment for all of us.
Fast forward to 1979… I was 16 and had already graduated high school, was working full-time and saving money for my “life goal” to travel the world, surfboard in hand, in search of the perfect wave. Once I turned 18 my parents couldn’t say no! On June 15, 1979 life was redefined as I knew it. A diving accident at Newport Beach’s 56th Street jetty left me a quadriplegic. In that single instant, one door slammed shut as another swung wide open. My true life’s purpose was just beginning which I would only realize later in life.
My five months in physical rehabilitation was complicated by my Mother’s depression which manifest itself in heavier drinking, bringing even more wild, erratic, and often violent behavior.
None of us uttered it aloud, but the truth was that my spinal cord injury was more than my mother could bear, and it broke her.
At least 3 times each week my mother would call me in my hospital room between 2:00 and 3:00 am. The phone rang until my nurse could get to my room, which sometimes took as long as 10 minutes. There was never a voice at the other end when my nurse pick-up the phone and put it to my ear; instead all I heard was one of two records either John Denver or Judy Collins playing in the background. I knew it was her because those where the only two records she owned.
Four years after my injury, my mother took her own life. There were no disability support and/or awareness groups were not readily available. Today I realize that the loss of my mother created a deep seeded call to action in me which led me to create a Disabilities Awareness training program for schools, church groups and health care professionals. My purpose in these trainings is to enable people to perceive disabilities in a different, less-tragic, context that will provide a beacon of hope for those individuals, or those of their loved-ones, that have been affected by disability.
However, it wasn’t until 1993 that I finally gave priority in my life to helping people with disabilities when I began to work at wheelchair dealership. In my time there I learned how to evaluate and custom fit people for wheelchairs.
In 1994 Medicaid issued a mandate to each state to create a managed care system for their Medicaid recipients. I recognized that the process by which disabled consumers acquired wheelchairs was going to change radically where the disabled could be legally denied services and equipment that would deeply affect the quality of their lives. I saw the need and opportunity represented by this shift. I left the wheelchair dealership and founded Adaptive Technologies Group.
The Medi-Cal Managed Care Authority in Orange County was created by CalOptima and was originally comprised of over 30 separate health care plans. Most of these health plans came from the commercial insurance market. Case managers, who previously saw one or two wheelchair requests in a career, were now seeing that many each week. Few, if any, of these case managers had enough experience with rehab wheelchairs to discern whether or not the recommendations made by the wheelchair dealer, who had a bottom-line interest, were medically appropriate and cost effective. Recommendations from dealers were frequently functionally inappropriate for the patient, putting them at risk of spinal deformity and/or life threatening pressure sores that often require hospitalization.
Adaptive Technologies Group provided independent, 3rd party wheelchair evaluations for these health plans in conjunction with training for case managers. I made sure that the patients were custom fitted with wheelchairs that would enable the highest function and greatest safety, keeping them healthy and out of the hospital, providing them the highest quality of life possible.
In January of 1999 an obscure condition known as autonomic dysreflexia ruptured a healthy blood vessel in my brain causing a massive hemorrhage leaving me in a coma for 11 days, given little chance of survival. My hospitalization and subsequent period of recovery and rehabilitation prevented me from continuing my work with Adaptive Technologies Group.
Once I had fully recovered from the hemorrhage and was able to process thought clearly and coherently I realized a new and higher purpose for my life. Having so narrowly escaped death with voice and mind still intact, I was graced by clarity of purpose and vision, from which with the help of many wonderful volunteers, Wheels of Mercy was born.
During my time conducting in-home wheelchair evaluations I witnessed what became a predictable pattern. Every consumer we evaluated for a new wheelchair had 2 or 3 of their previous wheelchairs in storage. Most of these wheelchairs were in highly serviceable condition, and doing nothing more than collecting dust. Not only were they in good condition, but most were highly customized to meet involved needs.
These wheelchairs, once collected, repaired, refurbished, and catalogued in a relational database; have the power to transform lives domestically and internationally.
My mission is to collect the 30-40 million wheelchairs that do nothing more than collect dust all across the country, repair and refurbish them, and give them to people who need but cannot afford them.
In addition to our primary focus; Wheels of Mercy provides these additional programs:
Disabilities Awareness Training (develop confidence interacting with the disabled)
· Change negative perceptions, feelings of the unknown and fears that students, church groups, health care professionals, employers and employees may have in order to embrace those with disabilities.
· I personally represent those who are disabled that are being denied doctor prescribed surgery, equipment, medication or other needed services by Medicaid at State fair hearings.
Medical Marijuana Consultation and Advocacy
· My advocacy in this area is strictly limited to only supporting the rights of the terminally ill and obviously severely disabled in accordance with California's compassionate use laws.