New wheelchair gives paralyzed veterans chance to stand on own

312gregre_300The Minneapolis VA hospital has revamped the traditional standing wheelchair to help make paralyzed veterans more functional in everyday life. Having had this vision of a more mobile chair nearly a decade ago, its creators have finally seen a workable prototype come to life.

“For years I’ve felt so frustrated because my patients who could benefit from standing didn’t have the ability to move once they stood up,” said Dr. Gary Goldish, the hospital’s director of extended care and rehabilitation.

With help from a team of biomedical engineers, Goldish modified a wheelchair already on the market by adding a drive wheel that allows the push rim to rise so patients can reach it when they stand, Goldish explained.

Whether working in an assembly line, painting a living room, or reaching for a book, “the chair moves with the patient and gives them full functionality like we have when we stand,” according to Goldish.

In existing models, patients who can’t reach the push rim in the standing position are forced to sit before they can boost the chair and move themselves to a new location.

“They’re just hard to get going,” Christensen said.

The VA’s design also keeps the chair’s four wheels on the ground at all times, providing more stability — and much more maneuverability.