Greg's Accessible Van
I finished my driving lesson and things are looking good. Today I test fitted all my Van options. There are 4 Vans and 2 styles of Ramp Systems that they use. After getting in each style, the only one that fit my needs and situation, is the Toyota Sienna, with the Braun Fold-Up Ramp. So things are looking like I might actually be driving myself soon. Unfortunately, my old van broke down again last week. Luckily, we had just gotten off the freeway. So I’m hoping the process doesn't take too long. Voc-Rehab will only install all this High-Tech driving equipment in a new van. So our Fund is still going. So please Share my page if you can. Again, I thank you all so much.
Update: Great News…
I recently got some great news. I stared taking driving lessons and things are going great. I just got word from Voc-Rehab that if I pass, they should cover the cost of the ramp conversion AND add the Driving Equipment. So after 35 year, I can be back in the driver's seat. The thought of being able to drive myself, go somewhere myself, is very exciting. One of the qualifications is that they will only add all that equipment to a new van. The campaign has been going good, we have raised about 2/3 of the cost, [So We Are Getting Close.] Again, I thank you all so very much.
Greetings Friends and Future Friends,
I want to thank you in advance for taking the time to read my story. My name is Greg Wickenburg, and on my lap in the picture is my little rescue dog, Roo, who I have trained to be my service dog.
I was born and raised in Seattle and was a pretty active kid. I loved growing up in Seattle, I went to Roosevelt High School. Played Little League Baseball, Skateboards, BMX Bike, etc. Loved Seafair, Hydros, we would make little hydroplanes and pull them around on our bikes.
Though at the age of 17, my life changed dramatically. I was in an automobile accident that left me a C-5 quadriplegic, which means that I am paralyzed from the shoulders down, unable to use my hands, fingers, waist and legs, only partial arm movement. Some biceps, no triceps.
After my injury, I went from an active kid to spending my days wearing fleece hats, turtleneck sweaters, wrapped in a blanket, sitting by the fire. I rarely left the house because I was always so cold. A person with a spinal cord injury can not regulate their body temp very well (My ave body temp is 96.5 on a good day. Often down to 95 in the mornings). I was miserably cold all the time. So in 2004 we finely moved somewhere warm, to the Phoenix area (Chandler, AZ). I can still get cold, but then I go outside and sit in the sun. I now feel like I am a reptile, sitting in the sun every moring to get warm. Between being warm again, no longer all bundled up, and my service dog Roo, I feel active again. I like to go out and do things.
But now that I am active once more, my van is prone to problems. Leaving us stranded more than once in the desert. My 20+ year old van has seen better days and is costing more in upkeep than it is worth.
My van is no longer reliable to get me to my weekly doctor appointments. It has over 200,000 miles on it, the tie-downs are outdated, the AC barely works (front only), the side ramp door will not close all the way, and in just the last 6 months, the ramp door motor, the hydraulics on the ramp system, and 3 electric windows have all gone out. Besides that, the ramp itself has large cracks on it and the motor leaks oil. Also, there is no air conditioning in the back where I ride in my wheelchair.
Though I love the warmth of the sun, living in Chandler AZ (Phoenix area), where the temperature often rises to 115 degrees in the summer, it can get very uncomfortable. Because quadriplegics are not able to control their body temperature I'm often cold, but I can, and do, also have issues with heat. Though not as often, I can get over-heated. When I do, I’m in trouble. It can cause something called (Autonomic Dysreflexia). Super high blood pressure, very bad headaches, sweats, shakes, and then it gets bad.
My goal is to raise enough money for a newer used van. A newer used wheelchair accessible van starts at about $25,000.
Though I am in true and near-immediate need of a handicap assessable van for just basic transportation, weekly doctor appointments, etc... or just getting out of the house. After 30 years of being dependant on others to do almost everything for me, and not able to go anywhere by myself, my greatest wish is to have some independence. It has been a fantasy of mine for several years now to someday get a van that I could drive by myself. I know this sounds impossible because I cannot use my legs, body, fingers, wrists, or the triceps in my arms (I have minimal bicep muscles.) However, due to the wonders of modern technology, you can now drive a van using a joystick similar to the one I use with my wheelchair. I took some driving lessons, and sure enough, on my first try I was driving on my own! I found it to be the most liberating feeling I have had since my injury 30 years ago. Though an Accessible Van set up for me to drive, can cost $150,000.
But… I just found out, Voc-Rehab, will likely cover the cost of converting a van, and add the driving equipment, but only if I can buy a new van. They do not want to put that much funds into a used van. So to get a van I can drive myself, I would need to raise about $33,000. Can You Believe It. You just might see me driving around.
Being born and raise in Seattle I grew up a huge sports fan of all WA teams. I will forever be a #12... Seahawks, Huskies, Mariners, fan. Though now that I’ve been in AZ for a little bit, I am also a huge fan of all AZ teams. I figure you must always root for your home team. Cardinals, ASU, Dbacks, etc. It's when they play eachother I get confused. I root for myself and against myself.
Being such a big sports fan, I’ve used Twitter contacting some Seattle and Phoenix athletes asking if they might Retweet this GoFundMe address. A number of them have been very helpful in Retweeting it and adding some nice comments.
I have the Cutest Service Dog Ever, his Name is Roo. He is a Papillion...Roo was a rescue dog who had a broken leg when we first got him as a tiny puppy. Someone bought him, somehow broke his leg, and then did not want to pay to fix it. So they dumped him. At that time I was looking for a small dog, just a lap dog I could take on walks in my power wheelchair. I did not want a puppy, but he was just too sweet and cute. We had to adopt him.
When Roo was old enough, we started obedience training. We were the only team that flunked. So we went home with long Papillion ears drooping. I tried training Roo by myself just so he would at least behave well–sit, stay, etc. But as it turned out, he was very smart, but he only wanted to do things when HE thought it needed done. Although we noticed that if you had a treat, he always thought things needed done.
Roo picked things up pretty fast. The first thing he learned was on our walks. A mile away from our home, there is a small golf course. We would walk by and Roo would pick up stray golf balls and put them on the footrest of my wheelchair between my feet so he could bring it home (His record was 8 balls on 1 walk). Then I started to train him to help me do things. He can now pick things up that I drop and put it back on my lap. He can turn lights on/off. He can take money or credit card out of my shirt pocket and put on the counter at the store, fix rug corners my wheelchair flips over, and most important is he gets help by barking continuously if I need it.
Roo has really helped me out on many occasions, and a number of times it was very important. Many times I have fallen forward or sideways in my wheelchair and because I am paralyzed from shoulders down, I can't sit myself back up, so I had my face in my lap. Once I had a bad medical situation (The above mentioned Autonomic Dysreflexia) in bed and he barked loudly until someone came to help. Another time I drove my chair off the curb, and I was stuck with my chair's wheels off the ground, face in my lap on a slow traffic road. Roo barked until someone at a local park came over to help me.
Roo and the weather have changed my life, made it a bit more normal. Now only if my transportation could do the same.
I thank you all and appreciate you for taking the time to read my story in the hope that you and the “GoFundMe” community might be able to help me in my current need.
If enough people donate even a little bit, it could really add up. Who knows, I might be driving again after 30 years. Dreams can come true.
Please contact me if you would like to make an off-line donation, need verification of my injury, my need, character reference, or just have questions.
I want to give a special thanks to the old high school gang and fellow alumni from Roosevelt HS. They have helped a lot. I truly thank you.
As of now, between on-line and off-line donations, we have reached about 60% of our goal. Every donation helps a lot. Even $5 gets us that much closer.
If you are interested is seeing some of my photography, you can see a number of them here:
I do a lot of double exposures, I do them all in-camera, no computer. I love Wildlife, but it’s hard to get close in a power wheelchair. I entered a few of my regular wildlife photos in the Chandler, AZ Nature Photo Contest. I got lucky and got 3 category awards. 1st, 1st, 3rd, And Overall #1 People Choice. It’s a small contest, but it was fun. The news actually came to my house to interviewed me. This is the video… A bit embarrassing, but fun...
I thank you so much, Most Sincerely, Greg Wickenburg and Roo
The print on the above article might be too small for some to read so I transcribed it below. I thank you so much for reading my story.
Quadraplegic since a teen, 30 years hasn’t diminished his resolve to be independent. (Jan 9, 2016) The Wrangler, Chandler, AZ.
By Joyce Coronel
Greg Wickenburg has a dream. No, he doesn’t want to fly to Maui or hurtle through space on a trip to the moon.
Wickenburg wants to be able to drive himself to a friend’s house. Or the doctor’s office. Or even the dog park so his faithful companion, Roo, can bark and run and play.
Thirty years ago, as a teenager, Wickenburg was in a serious car accident that left him paralyzed. A C/5 quadriplegic, he’s spent the last 30 years in a motorized wheelchair. Most days, he reads books on his Kindle or watches television. Once a week, he goes to one of the doctors who specializes in his care.
“I am paralyzed from the shoulders down but I can move my biceps. I can’t straighten back out without gravity. No wrist, no fingers. So it’s just my arms that can move a little bit,” Wickenburg told Wrangler News.
His caregivers, his mother and his sister, won’t always be there, he knows.
“Being so dependent on others to take care of my needs, driving me to weekly doctor’s appointments — the idea of being able to go somewhere by myself would be life-changing. They can’t drive me around forever,” Wickenburg said.
Dr. Mark Wilson of Chandler has been Wickenburg’s family practice physician for 10 years. Both men love dogs, so when Wickenburg showed up with Roo, there was an almost instant connection.
“No matter how good he feels or how bad he feels with his different symptoms, he’s always come in with a smile and, actually, a pretty good attitude,” Wilson said. “And you don’t see that very often with patients very often nowadays.”
Wickenburg recently found out about a van that’s been adapted so quadriplegics can drive.
Joanne Wickenburg, Greg’s mom, remembers how she felt when she saw her son test-drive the vehicle. It was the first time he’d taken the wheel in 30 years.
“I just cried watching him go up the street. It was intense,” Joanne said. A van that he could operate on his own would be “the best thing that ever happened to him,” she added.
Wickenburg’s current vehicle, a 1995 Ford Windstar van, is on its last legs. It’s starting to cost more in upkeep than it’s worth, he said.
“My current van actually broke down and had me stranded twice when we first moved here,” Wickenburg said. That was before the family had a cell phone. It was 110 degrees outside and they weren’t close to anyplace that might offer help. Fortunately, a police officer came to their assistance.
The second time the van broke down, the Wickenburgs wound up near a family that was just moving in. They were able to hang out for a few hours while they tried to find a taxi that was wheelchair accessible.
One of the issues Wickenburg has been having is that the air conditioner in his current van blows cool air up front — but not in back where he sits.
Spinal cord injury patients don’t control their body temperature well, and getting overheated causes something called autonomic dysreflexia, which leads to soaring blood pressure, pounding headaches, and a nasty sense of claustrophobia. Any discomfort can cause this, but pain and overheating are the most common.
Greg started a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of getting a newer van.
“My goal is to raise enough funds to help get a new van, or (at least) a newer van. But my dream is to maybe get a van I can drive myself,” Wickenburg said. “If I could actually do it, I think it would be life-changing.
“Just to be able to go somewhere by myself, go to even doctor’s appointments. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to go anywhere by myself other than taking the dog for a walk.” Wickenburg was a junior in high school when he suffered the devastating injury.
Is it really possible or even feasible for a quadriplegic to drive himself around? Wilson thinks so.
“He probably can’t drive in major traffic, but to have the ability to see me or see the neurologist or the other specialist would give him more independence.
“That’s huge,” Wilson said.
“It would be an ego boost. He’s not that old. Look at what we’re doing with the VA guys that are blown up …they get a leg, they get an arm, they do a lot of (physical therapy)—they get them strong and then they can go skiing, they can go fishing, they can hike Mount Everest. It’s attainable.”
Wickenburg, Wilson added, is a gracious person.
“He almost always says thanks at the end, and not many patients do that. Greg’s the opposite. The last thing is for him to beg… He would benefit and his quality of life would be much better. It will take a while but it’s something that he can do,” Wilson said.
Would-be donors can visit Wickenburg’s GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/qe6wk5jg. They can also drop off checks at Chase Bank.
So far, Wickenburg has raised just $3,200. A reliable, wheelchair-accessible, used van would cost $30,000. A newer model with a power ramp system costs about $65,000. For the version with the addition of a joy stick that would allow him to drive independently, the price tag is a bit higher: $150,000 – $175,000.
“I think one reason the funds are coming in slow is the cost just scares people away. I would like people to know that every little bit helps,” Wickenburg said.
“If I can get enough to help with even a newer used mini-van it would be greatly appreciated.”