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A doctor at the VA in Minneapolis has designed a new standing wheelchair, making life easier for paralyzed veterans and others who use wheelchairs in their daily lives.

In 2015, CBS News reported the story of paralyzed veteran John Christianson, recipient of a newly designed standing wheelchair.

As the story opens, Christianson wheelchairs over to a bookshelf, and uses the wheelchair to move from a seated position to a standing position in front of the book he wants. "For the first time in 20 years, I don't have to ask anyone for help," Christianson tells the CBS reporter. "It's nice not to have to ask anyone for help."

Christianson was one of the very first people to test a new standing wheelchair designed by Dr Gary Goldish, of the Minneapolis Veterans Administration hospital. Golden took an existing standing wheelchair, and with input from engineers, came up with design changes: "We modified the existing standing wheelchair by taking a drive wheel chair and separating the push rim from the tire." 

This allows the push rim to be accessed from a standing position, in the same way it can be accessed while sitting. 

Goldish's objective was to make using the wheelchair while standing as similar to using the wheelchair while sitting as possible. The chair's four wheels and four casters are on the ground at all times, keeping the chair stable. The push rim, however, can rise with the user as the seat is raised to become a back rest.

The ability to use a wheelchair while standing reduces the risk of pressure sores. It also enables the user to reach shelves and to do far more tasks of daily living more independently. Christianson can even shoot hoops after years of not being able to play basketball. Paralyzed Veterans of America provided the funding for the refinements made to this prototype, although they expect to make refinements in the basic design for several years before the chair is ready to go to market. Unlike many other standing wheelchairs, this chair is not electric, and does not depend on batteries for its operation.

An Invention Designed To Avoid Red Tape

Goldish is the chief designer of the new manually operated standing wheelchair, but he's hardly the first inventor of a standing wheelchair. Dean Kamen, who also invented the Segway, had designed a robotic standing wheelchair that not only could lift its user into a standing position, it could even climb stairs. However, FDA regulations required changes that brought the cost of the chair to $25,000, not covered by insurance, Medicare, or Veterans' benefits, and also requiring a training program for each operator. Kamen's iBOT project went out of business in 2009.

Who Could Use A Standing Wheelchair?

In the United States, more funding is available for research that benefits its several million disabled military veterans than for smaller groups in equal need of the device. However, standing wheelchairs would be beneficial to almost anyone who needs a wheelchair: people who have multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, people who have spinal cord injuries, and people who have paralysis for any reason or who simply have weak legs
 
Unfortunately, Medicare and insurance companies ruled that the ability to raise the occupant to eye level, putting him or her on the same plane as the rest of the world, and the ability to climb stairs were not "medically necessary" so the entire cost of the chair had to be born by the user or kindly donors.
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