Accessible ATV

by Bob Huskey

It has been 60 years since I was injured with a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia. When I was released from the VA hospital I wanted to be able to get outdoors as much as possible. I went where I could in my push wheelchair. For years I tried numerous different ways to get about on the farm that my family owned. At one time I had a three wheel motorized cart which I could use but it would not go very well except on open ground. I also had a Ford Bronco which was able to get around well but I had to get out of my wheelchair and into the car to drive it. As time went by I became too weak to make the transfer into the Bronco and continued to look for a vehicle that could get me where I wanted to go while I remained in my wheelchair. I wanted to do this so badly with my father in the last few years he was alive. He always seemed to enjoy being outdoors as much as I did. What little time I was able to spend with him outdoors looking at all of nature was one of the best times I can remember.

I continued to look for an off-road vehicle that I could drive as well as have someone with me. I found a person who would modify a golf cart with a ramp and a set of hand controls. That worked fairly well because I could be independent and others could ride with me. However, the time soon came when I could no longer do it because I didn't have the strength to turn the steering wheel in tight places. The other distinct disadvantage was that it was two wheel drive and although I went many places where golf carts don't usually go, I would get stuck on occasion and I needed a tractor to pull me out, which meant somebody had to walk to get the tractor.

In February of this year, my wife was looking at the local newspaper when she noticed a fellow I know in a 4 wheel drive utility vehicle who is a quadriplegic. She immediately said this is what I needed. I agreed.

My brother was recently diagnosed with cancer and I wanted to be able to take him out doors as a therapeutic activity. I, along with my brother have a hundred plus acres and I now am able to go every where on the farm because James Gebert, whose father is a Veteran, converts four-wheel-drive vehicles (ATV} to accommodate a quadriplegic.

My unit is custom made for me. It has hand controls, a power ramp for boarding, power steering, power brakes, two emergency parking brakes, a winch, Q restraints, enough room to get in behind the adjustable steering wheel, and an EASY-loc on the floor. I now have a vehicle that will go anywhere on my farm with ease and safely. l can carry one other wheelchair, my brother, and two other passengers. It is the most carefully planned mobility device I have had for myself in the 60 years that I've been in a wheelchair. Now I can get out in the outdoors anytime and in any weather. I can now see deer, turkey, wildlife and acres of plants, flowers, and trees that I could not see before.

I think that this ATV is one of the most creative, custom made, outdoor vehicle for a person with my physical condition that I have seen since my injury 60 years ago. I have never encountered anyone working with vehicles or wheelchairs give this much attention to each tiny detail. James wanted his father and other Veterans to get outside in any kind of terrain. As James built my ATV, he was always tweaking each little part, each control in each part of the unit in such a way that I as a C-5 quad am able to safely access any place on my farm.

Because the original accessible ATV was designed by James Gebert for his father, he has paid more attention to the details of accessibility and safety needed by a person who is a quadriplegic then any other person I have known. It makes a huge difference. I am now able to enjoy all of my farm. I hope that others might be able to have this kind of vehicle available to them because of the pleasure that it has brought to me. I'm looking forward to enjoying this for the next few years that I am able to use it to be outdoors and go where I want to when I want to regardless of the terrain.

Missouri Disabled Water Ski Clinic

by Rusty Ezzell

Good day to you all. I wanted to write a little thank you to the Missouri Disabled Water Ski Clinic. If you haven't had a chance to go out to Creve Coeur Lake the last weekend of July you should mark it on you calendar and go. Between the staff, and the volunteers it’s a wonderful time. They have skis for all skill levels. They will help you get fitted for the appropriate ski and teach you how to use it. I used a beginner ski which didn't stop me from drinking half the lake but after a few tries I was able to get up on the water and make it around the lake a couple of times. It’s a thrilling experience to say the least. They also had plenty of food and water and everything that you would need to have a great day. I rode a 264 horse power jet ski. It was amazingly fast and super cool. I got to take it around the lake a couple times. You don't really know how exhilarating it is until you are going 62mph on the open water. I ride a Harley and I was completely blown away.

The staff and volunteers will help you in any way they can. From getting you fitted to the right ski to helping you get to the water. They are very knowledgeable about the skis and are more than willing to help you. They have a group of people that will follow you while you ski and help you get back onto your ski so you can continue on with your adventure. I have to give a special shout to the guys that followed me. When I first started out, I fell more times than I care to admit. Those guys promptly jumped in the water after me to make sure I was okay and then get you set up to get back behind the boat. They were the best for sure. The food was delish and there was plenty to be had by all.

If you are a disabled Veteran the cost is covered for the event. Its a two day event that  covers training and some skiing on Friday and then all day skiing, tubing, and jet skiing on Saturday. It can be a bit scary at first but if you trust the staff and volunteers you will have a great time, no doubt.

So having said all that I want to say thank you again to all the volunteers and staff that were out at Creve Coeur lake on July 29-30th. It was a great time and I had a lot of fun. You can count on me to be there next year for sure.

What a Game!!!

The Gateway Chapter PVA was kind enough to purchase K.C. Royals tickets for the game against Tampa Bay Rays for the Kansas City members. Bonnie and her sister Becky went to the July 6th game during a severe thunderstorm. That was the night we had tornado warnings all over the city. Bonnie and Becky were evacuated with the rest of the fans when the tornado sirens went off. They were escorted to the tunnels where they would be safe until the storm passed. They got to see a part of the stadium few people ever see.  

After all of that, the game was postponed until the next day. Bonnie Hilburn, Joe Marvil and I really enjoyed ourselves. We had good seats and we took part in all of the good concession food. The game was exciting. The Royals and the Rays went back and forth scoring their runs.  

The Rays came up in the 9th inning; the score was 5-4 in favor of the Royals. Then Kevin Kiemer hit a triple off of K.C.’s closer Greg Holland. Kiemer scored on a wild pitch and tied the game 5-5.

Then the Royals came up to bat. Eric Hosmer and Alex Rios hit one-out singles before Omar Infante walked loading the bases. Here comes Paulo Orlando who was just called up from triple A. He hit a grand slam, just a few feet away from us into the fountains, giving the Royals a walk-off 9-5 victory!

The crowds went wild. It was a lot of fun. I have never seen a grand slam in person; I will never forget it. It was very exciting. On behalf of Bonnie and I, I would like to thank the Gateway Chapter for a great time.  

“Thank You” Note

by Paul “Rusty” Ezzell

Well I don't know if this is an attaboy or just a note to say Thank You but I’m writing this to let you all know what happened to me. Me is Rusty by the way. I recently received a true blessing from our beloved Gateway PVA. I don't know if you all remember when Stan had brought it up at a meeting that the PVA was going to be giving away handicapped accessible vans again this year or not.

Well I did remember and I submitted a small essay to the PVA let them know how one of them would benefit me and my life. Given the fact that I am non service connected, and that being one of the criteria, and having a truck that is on its last leg I kind of figured what the hell. Well on or about the 28th of May I received a call from Stan stating that I had not won a van but had in fact had gotten a gift of $10,000 to apply to either a new vehicle or to fix up the one that I currently drive. I have to tell you that I broke down and cried. I had just spent $550 on basically a brake job on the old truck just the day before. You see I have been dealing with a lot of personal issues for about the last year, my old truck being one of those issues. I was out in the garage praying to the good Lord to please send me some relief for my issues. A bit of sunlight at the end of the dark tunnel that I felt I had been in for such a long time. Well needless to say it came in a huge way thanks to the PVA!

I know that we have had our issues with the PVA at one point in time. The points thing, trying to get this or that, making meetings, whatever the issues. Heck I’ve even called and crabbed to Susan once or twice over things, sorry Susan, but I’m here to say that if you put in the time and talk to them things will happen. In my case a VERY AWESOME thing happened. I can’t say Thank You enough to the PVA for this wonderful gift. It has giving me hope that tomorrow will, and can be, a better day. That the organization is a great one that looks out for all of us disabled vets that belong. I can’t make as many meetings as I would like to make and I can’t be at all the functions that we have either. I do try but because I have to work during the summer and fall months I do what I can. I think that all of us that belong should try to make as many of the meetings and functions that we can. The PVA goes above and beyond to try and make sure that they can do what they can to help with whatever needs that any of us may have. Yes we have to go through some hoops to get them but as we all know, given our disabilities, we have all had to work a little harder to get what we want in this world. We have all had to overcome and strive to become who we are today. Nothing is easy and nothing that is worth anything ever just comes to anyone with a disability. Having said that I want to say THANK YOU to the local chapter of the PVA. Thank you for this life changing wonderful gift that you have bestowed on me. It has given me a new outlook on life and has restored my faith, not only in this organization, but on life itself. It is a true blessing not only from you but from the good Lord above. Again THANK YOU very much!!!!

Retirement of Kathy Ricker, LMSW, KCVAMC SCI Coordinator

By Bonnie Hilburn

The Kansas City VA Medical Center Spinal Cord Injury Clinic has been blessed to have Kathy Ricker as our Spinal Cord Injury Coordinator since 2005.  She received her Bachelors of Social Work in 1990 from the University of Central Missouri, and her Masters of Social Work in 1991 from the University of Kansas.  She was then employed at the Kansas City VA Medical Center first as MSW candidate June 1990 & full time January 1991.

When I came on board with Paralyzed Veterans of America in 1991, Social Worker (SW) Kent Porter had established one of the first VA SCI Clinics in the country.  At that time, it was nearly impossible to find out who was eligible for the clinic.  He ran a very elite group that he hand-picked. Kent always spoke very highly of Kathy.  He told me how she promoted the Practice of Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty Theory to him in 1993.  This was many years before Kevin Spacey’s movie “Pay It Forward” (2005), and before it became popular to do random acts of kindness.  After Kent retired, we went through two other SCI Coordinators that really did nothing for our clinic or SCI patients.  It wasn’t until 2005, that Kathy took the position that our group actually saw a multitude of improvements for our SCI Clinic and the entire Physical Medicine Department.   

Kathy initiated the SCI Registry.  She started our first SCI Support Group with the help and support from our former Director Kent Hill.  She started a newsletter to keep us all involved with the many community events that were happening around town.  She served as Acting Chief PM&R June, 2006-February 2007.  She encouraged veteran participation in Adaptive Sports & Recreation programs since 2007.   She facilitated contact with the Gateway Chapter PVA main office in St. Louis and helped establish membership forums with Gateway officers.  

Kathy opened the doors for all SCI eligible veterans to a variety of medical benefits such as the Bowel and Bladder Program and the Catastrophic Disability Program.  She helped us to get special parking and procured a bus with a wheelchair lift for outings.  She set up travel to events that many SCI veterans wouldn’t have been able to attend without her help.  She even drove the VA bus on several occasions.  Kathy has done whatever needed to be done for our Kansas City veterans.

Kathy is married and has three adult daughters; six adult step-children; twelve grandchildren and one great grandson.  She will tell you that her greatest achievement was being a single mom to Billie, Ashley (who is disabled) & Lindsay, and now her marriage to Richard in 1994.  She is a member of the Praise & Worship team at her church.  But, she feels that her biggest mission since she began her career at Kansas City VA was being blessed by all of her encounters with veterans & co-workers.

Kathy Ricker is retiring at the end 2014, and she will be sorely missed by all of us.  She is the most dedicated and kind person that I know.  Whoever takes her place will have big shoes to fill!  If anyone deserves an Atta Girl, it is her.  Best wishes on your retirement, on behalf of all the veterans, thank you for your dedication.

AMBUCS

By LaRoy Smith

National AMBUCS, Inc. is a national charitable service organization. The goal of AMBUCS is to create mobility and independence for people with disabilities. The AMBUCS mission is fulfilled by members of local chapters who among other things provide AmTryke therapeutic tricycles to people with disabilities.

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Earlier this year, the organization contacted the recreational therapists at Jefferson Barracks and told them they were coming to St. Louis for their annual convention and, per their mission, wanted to donate bikes to disabled veterans. A day was set aside at the JB Gym for applications and fittings. With much hope, the veterans came and applied and were fitted for the best type of bike for their condition. Then the wait began.

On Wednesday evening, October 29, over 30 veterans from our area were treated to a dinner at Union Station. Afterward, there was an individual introduction and indoor parade of all the veterans riding their new bikes. Much applause, many tears.

Here’s a hat’s off to AMBUCS and all their participating sponsors who made this possible. Thank you AMBUCS for our new bikes. Hand-cycling here I come!

That could be the end of this article, but no, there’s more. Many of us who already receive our healthcare from the VA know about the benefits of the therapies we receive from our dedicated therapists and of the participation in the many athletic and other opportunities provided by PVA at the Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado and both the Golden Age Games and the National Wheelchair Games. It’s an awesome collaboration.

Now, I challenge all of you who haven’t yet participated to come to JB Spinal Cord Unit and challenge yourself to any of a myriad of adaptive opportunities – Air Guns, Archery, Arts & Crafts, Basketball, Boccia, Bowling, Clay and Skeet Shooting, Computer Classes, Creative Writing, Dominoes, Fishing, Golf, Hand-Cycling, Nine-Ball, Photography, Recreational Outings, Scuba, Softball, Snow Skiing/Snowboarding, Swimming, Theatre Arts, Track & Field Events, Water Skiing, Water Therapy, Weightlifting and much more.

Surprised? Never tried any of these before? Don’t worry, many of us in these programs hadn’t either before we worked with our therapists. Those of us who have tried many of these new activities are here to encourage you and share the fun we’re already having. Come on, get involved in PVA and any or all of the activities above at the VA.