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Invention provides self-reliance, dignity for the wheelchair-bound

Published on December 16th, 2009

Argus Leader had an interesting article written by Anna Bahney about a new invention that may help wheel chair bound residents.   Greg Johnson designed the wheel-chair to help his parents. Glenice Johnson spends her day in a wheelchair that her son developed, and Greg has turned over the wheelchair to a group of South Dakotans who work to find others who could benefit the way his mom has.

The chair, called the Dignity200, is the first wheelchair on the market that allows what the makers call "self-toileting."  The user pushes a lever that drops a center panel from the seat. The person backs the chair over the commode, readjusts clothing and urinates or allows for a bowel movement as if sitting on a toilet seat. Once clean, and after adjusting clothing, the user moves the chair away from the commode and the panel is returned to place.

"If I’m here by myself, I can take care of what I need to," Glenice said. "Mentally and emotionally, it is a tremendous plus. It makes all the difference in me being at home."

The adjustable, custom-built chair, available at Kreisers medical supply store in Sioux Falls and a growing number of similar stores, costs $2,950.   It is an expensive chair, Greg admits. But chair effectively pays for itself every three weeks, considering that a month’s stay in a long-term care facility can run at least $5,000.

But the greatest benefit might be a wheelchair-bound person staying home as long as possible.

Greg said he was able to figure out how to remove the understructure from beneath the wheelchair but couldn’t work out the drop-down panel.  He called up a rancher friend with a background in engineering to pick his brain.   Together, they began to work on prototypes. The hardest part, Greg said, was "making sure the seat cushion would be of a quality that allows her to stay in the seat all day. If that didn’t work, it wouldn’t be possible."

The Dignity200 now is approved by the Federal Drug Administration and is in testing for applications outside the home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care workers who routinely lift and move patients have a higher risk of injuries than workers in most other occupations, and the number of those injuries are increasing.

In September, the chair became part of a risk prevention study overseen by the University of South Dakota medical school in partnership with the Good Samaritan Society.

"The lifting and transferring from chair to commode and so forth for residents whose conditions tend to be frail, that’s a significant issue and a significant source of injury to residents and staff," said Bill Kubat, vice president for resident community and quality service at the Good Samaritan Society.

A trial of the chairs at a Good Samaritan facility helped the chair get where it is now. Stories emerged, including staff who felt the chair made their work safer and a woman who had not used the bathroom on her own for four years and cried when the chair had to be returned at the end of the trial.

But the longest test case has been Greg’s mom, who has been in the chair for two years.

"For my mom, she can feel like she’s on her own a little more again," Greg said. "And my dad doesn’t have to be home. He’s got a lot more freedom and he’s doing a lot less lifting. It has changed their life."

 

Joe Pioletti
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