By Joyce DeWallace
Marlborough – Pedro Trovo, who has worked for two-and-a-half years for The Wheelchair Recycler, is a man on a mission.
“We want to get everyone mobilized that insurance doesn's approve. We want to supply the right equipment that's comfortable, safe and durable,” he said.
Dave Heim, president and founder of the organization that is dedicated to helping change the face of mobility for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who need power wheelchairs, believes the proper equipment can improve the quality of life.
“A powerchair has to be as tough as a car,” Heim said. “People live in their chairs.”
The nonprofit organization recycles, refurbishes, repairs and customizes power wheelchairs for those in need.
Heim has lived in Marlborough his entire life. When he was 35 years old, he had an automobile accident and suffered a severe spinal cord injury, which left him paralyzed. After several months of rehabilitation, he started working again. In order to get to his job in a machine shop, he drove his power wheelchair six miles to and from his place of employment. He learned all about powerchairs: what they cost, what insurance would and wouldn's cover, and how to fix them.
George Mavin, founder of Pass It On, a Cape Cod nonprofit that provides used but useable medical equipment to disabled children and their families, called Heim to ask his help in repairing a wheelchair. He told Heim, “You ought to do the powerchairs for people who need them.” And so in 1998, Heim started The Wheelchair Recycler, which soon became his full-time work.
Since then, more than 500 people have been helped to acquire power wheelchairs that work for them.
“We built a baby car seat power chair for a 2-year-old in Hull at no cost. Then we built a bigger one as she grew,” Trovo explained. “Right now, we have a 3-year-old with a seizure disorder in Hartford who asked us for a free chair. We'sl get it for him.”
For a teenage girl in Vermont, they put a snowplow on her chair so she can actually keep the driveway cleared.
Added Heim, “Jason from North Central Mass. got his chair two years ago. He was limited to being indoors or on his driveway. Now he can explore his five acres, go anywhere he wants in the snow, in mud, over rocks and to beaches safely. Wheelchair Recycler gave him his freedom.”
Heim went on to discuss another success story.
“Jeff from Indiana is 22 years old and can only move one arm slightly, so we built a special joystick that allows him to control the chair. Now he can go out on his own on his farm,” Heim said. “We have developed four-wheel drive wheelchairs that we sell to make some income and stay in business. They'se affordable, and we can customize them for people's size and weight. We'sl add any handicapped feature they need such as special controls or sip and puffs for quadriplegics. We need to sell more to supplement all the free work we do.”
Heim is frustrated by government programs and insurance companies that spend millions of dollars on inferior machines.
“I talk to so many people who are getting the wrong equipment because that's what Medicaid and insurance companies give them,” he said.
Prices are high, and Medicare pays 80 percent, which still leaves a big chunk for the handicapped.
If Heim could have anything he needed to make his program successful, he would like to spend a half hour in front of Congress to share his story and the hundreds of stories from the clients he has served. Wheelchair Recyclers needs more advocates to allow them to help more people. As with any nonprofit, the group needs to raise more money and community awareness. Heim dreams of having more paid staff and a real spokesperson. His wish list includes a fund-raiser, someone to handle the phones, and more tools, equipment and supplies to continue his work. Most of all, Wheelchair Recyclers wants to connect its products and capabilities with those in need, and more importantly, break through the barriers created by both insurance companies and government.
To help or make a donation or if you know someone who needs help becoming mobile, contact them at www.wheelchairrecycler.org or 617-652-0002. The Wheelchair Recycler is also on Facebook and Twitter. Send an e-mail to [email protected]