Is It Time To Replace Your Cushion?

February 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Guest Bloggers, ROHO Community News, ROHO Products

Guest blog post by Bob Vogel

“How do I know when it’s time to replace my cushion?” This is an important question that frequently comes up at consumer shows, a question that has a several answers.

The first and foremost reason to replace your cushion is if you have a change of medical condition that effects your skin such as weight gain, weight loss or if the cushion you are on is showing signs that it isn’t doing an effective job protecting your skin— if you start to notice your skin remaining red after a long day of sitting–insurance should pay for a new cushion with the proper seating evaluation.

This is why it is crucial to check the skin on your butt with a mirror every evening and morning—taking a few moments to do a mirror-skin check gives you the best odds of catching a potential skin problem early, before it progresses into a serious pressure ulcer.  If you start seeing a red area at the end of the day, it is important to tell your doctor and ask for a referral for an evaluation with a seating clinician—as soon as possible. Don’t wait!

This recently happened to me.  I’m 52 and in my 27th year as a T10 paraplegic and except for one tiny pressure ulcer right out of rehab I’ve had healthy skin.  But as we age our skin gets thinner. Lately I’ve noticed some redness on my left ischium during my evening mirror checks. I have a pelvic obliquity; my left ischium is slightly lower than my right. I tried readjusting the pressure in my cushion and doing extra weight shifts but the redness would return by evening. Although the redness blanched—turned white when I pushed on it with a finger and would disappear within 30 minutes– I knew I shouldn’t have any redness at all.

I took this very seriously. I know way too many wheelers that “never have skin issues” and felt they didn’t need to do mirror skin checks anymore.  Then somewhere 15 or more years after their injury they end up with a pressure ulcer, skin flap surgery and 3-month hospital stay.

The usual protocol in my case would be to phone my physician right away and get a referral to the first possible seating clinic. AND have the doctor emphasize, “there is compromised skin”.  This should get a timely seating clinic appointment because a new, properly fitted cushion is much cheaper than hospitalization and a skin flap.   If the seating clinic determined the cushion I was currently on was not adequate and I needed a new cushion, I would be sure to have them write that my skin is “compromised” on the Letter Of Medical Necessity.  As always it is important that the Letter Of Medical Necessity and cushion prescription say the exact seating needs; for example, ROHO® HIGH PROFILE® Single Compartment Cushion (4-inch).

I went through this once—26 years ago—with a tiny pressure ulcer due to the wrong cushion.  Because of the pressure ulcer I got a timely appointment at a seating clinic and Medicaid quickly approved payment for a ROHO cushion–an upgrade from the inadequate memory foam cushion on which I had been sent home from rehab.

In my current instance I was fortunate that I know a physical therapist that is an expert in seating and positioning. She took all of my seating information into account and suggested I switch to a ROHO® QUADTRO SELECT® HIGH PROFILE® Cushion, that has deeper cells than the ROHO QUADTRO SELECT that I was currently on. This would give me deeper immersion sinking into the cushion to provide more support in the areas surrounding my ischiums, and allow me additional depth to adjust the cushion so the left rear quadrant is significantly lower than the right without bottoming out—thus taking weight off of my ischium.  A disclaimer: Since I am in the ROHO elite program I didn’t have to get insurance approval.  Several weeks ago I received my ROHO HIGH PROFILE QUADTRO SELECT.  Evening mirror skin checks reveal success!  At the end of a long day my skin looks fine!

Another important reason to get a new cushion is time.  Every brand, make and model of cushion will break down over time. When this happens the cushion no longer supports and protects your skin the way it was designed—putting you at risk of a pressure ulcer.  Even if the cushion you are using is working fine, it is important to replace it before it starts to break down!

How often funding sources will reimburse a new cushion varies from one type of insurance to another.

In order to get a new cushion before your current cushion breaks down it is important that you are the squeaky wheel and ask about getting a replacement cushion. The way to do this is contact your local DME (durable medical equipment) supplier and tell them you need a new cushion. They will be happy to guide you through the step by step process of getting a new cushion, based on your seating needs, including gathering your insurance information to let you know how often your insurance will reimburse a new cushion.

If you don’t already have a working relationship with a DME supplier, locating one is your next step. ROHO makes this easy. To find a DME supplier go to www.therohogroup.com/where_to_buy.jsp and click on Buy from an Authorized Retailer Near You.

You can find Medicare DME provider(s) in your area by going to www.medicare.gov. On the main page pull down Resource Locator, scroll down to Medicare Supplier Directory, from there, type in your zip code and click submit. On the next page check Wheelchair Seating/Cushions and hit view results. The “default” setting on View Results is 10 miles — to find more DME supplier options it is helpful to expand the View All Suppliers Within (on the right side of the page) to a larger distance in order to find a Medicare DME provider that is also a ROHO authorized retailer.

It’s much better to be a proactive “squeaky wheel” and work on getting a replacement cushion while the cushion you are sitting on still provides proper support for your skin than waiting too long and risk developing a pressure ulcer because your cushion gets so old it is breaking down.  Plus, getting a new cushion while your old cushion still provides proper support means you now have a back up cushion—one you can use while cleaning your new cushion and/or to use on the seat of your car for extra skin protection while driving.  If your cushion is getting replaced, be sure that all of your paperwork specifies the exact manufacturer, model and size of the cushion you were fitted for.

Keep doing daily mirror skin checks and replace your cushion before it breaks down.  Stay healthy my friends!

 

___________________________________________

Bob VogelBob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Bob Vogel and do not necessarily reflect the views of The ROHO Group. You can contact Bob Vogel by email at online.relations@therohogroup.com.

Will 90210 TV Show’s Riley Be Hospitalized With A Pressure Ulcer?

December 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Feature Story, Guest Bloggers, Lifestyle

Guest blog post by Bob Vogel

Move over Artie Abrams from Glee, there is another wheelchair-using character on TV, this time it’s Riley Wallace, a 20-something paraplegic who was introduced this fall in the fifth season of 90210 on The CW Network. Unfortunately, like Artie, once again Hollywood ignored the talented pool of SAG (Screen Actors Guild) performers with disabilities who are wheelchair users and cast a non-disabled actor, Riley Smith, for the part. And once again, Hollywood misses the mark in many obvious areas, some which would surely land a real paraplegic in the hospital with a pressure ulcer.

From the moment Smith’s character “Riley”– a complete paraplegic with a low injury level that is at least a few years post injury—is introduced, it becomes apparent that the TV show didn’t bother to hire a consultant (an actual wheelchair user) to create an accurate portrayal of a paraplegic.  When we first see Riley, as an outpatient in a physical therapy gym, he is sitting on a wooden bench, doing bicep curls with his wheelchair nowhere to be seen. Are you kidding me?  Sitting on a wooden bench with no cushion?  And in a physical therapy gym, no less? Completely implausible.  Later in the scene, a physical therapist asks Riley if he is done lifting and brings his chair, complete with a foam cushion. No way a para would allow his chair to be taken away in this type of situation. . The obvious – a cheap foam cushion on the chair puts it over the top. How Riley has made it this long without a major pressure ulcer is beyond me. In real life, if a person with SCI (spinal cord injury) disregards their seating they will end up with a pressure ulcer—one that could be avoided. Perhaps this is what the writers are planning for thesixth season of 90210?  Will the storyline be that Riley develops a pressure ulcer, is hospitalized, and the wound causes an infection, drama building as he is near death from sepsis caused by the pressure ulcer?

“The portrayal is absurd,” says Tricia Garven, a physical therapist, masters of physical therapy/licensed (MPT/L), assistive technology professional (APT) and clinical applications manager for The ROHO Group.  “The reality is sitting on something unpadded, and sitting on a basic foam cushion on your wheelchair is a setup for a pressure ulcer and lengthy hospital stay, one that can easily run $100,000 or more.” Garven explains that because of funding cutbacks in the rehab industry, too many people are getting such short rehab stays they don’t fully learn you can’t sit on hard surfaces without a cushion.  “You may get away with sitting on a hard surface for a while, maybe even years but it is like playing Russian roulette, it isn’t a matter of IF you will get a pressure ulcer it is a matter of WHEN. The TV show does a serious disservice showing this,” she says.  “The same cutbacks result in people getting sent home without proper seating and positioning, a vital element because it is preventative — it helps prevent pressure ulcers and orthopedic problems” she adds.

Another area where the TV show misses is on Riley’s wheelchair. He is styling around in a properly fitted cool-looking wheelchair; except he is still using anti-tips! Seeing Smith try and play Riley as an active “in your face” heartthrob, wheeling around with anti-tips makes as much sense as an actor portraying an outlaw biker roaring around on a Harley with training wheels. He becomes more of a caricature than a character.

In interviews, Smith says his preparations for the show included the producers getting a chair two months in advance and he wheeled around his house and neighborhood.  Good start, but not obviously not enough–this reminds me of people that come up to me and say “I hurt my knee and spent a whole month in one of those [wheelchair] so I know what you are going through”.  Smith’s other preparation was speaking on the phone for two hours with Tiphany Adams from Push Girls. Wow, “talked with a para on the phone for two whole hours…”

“As an actor, from an actor’s prospective [wrong cushion, lifting weights on a wooden bench, anti-tips etc.] this is so frustrating because it just means the actor didn’t do his homework” says Tobias Forrest, an actor and singer-songwriter in his 14th year as C5 Quad who plays the character Greg in “The Sessions.” “Half of an acting job is doing the work to develop a background for the character I’m playing—if I’m playing somebody from Louisiana, I shouldn’t be talking with a Texas accent” he says. “I create a whole biography of them. I know their birthday, their horoscope, and the names of their parents. I know the life that they lived up until this moment.”

Forrest says he knows of at least five Screen Actors Guild actors that are paraplegics in the Los Angeles area that fit the bill for Riley’s character.  “When a non-disabled actor is playing a paraplegic they need to do all of the background work,” says Forrest.  “How were they injured?  What is their level of injury? Do they have spasticity? What kind of cushion do they use?  Do they know about things like avoiding pressure sores?  If they have anti-tips on the wheelchair, why?”

A great example of the kind of work that a non-disabled actor should do to play a wheelchair user is John Voight’s preparation to portray a paraplegic in the 1979 movie “Coming Home”. Rather than wheeling around and making a 2-hour phone call to a para, Voight spent months wheeling with other paraplegics at Rancho Los Amigos rehab center and worked with with Jeff Minnebraker, a rec therapist and L1 para.  Minnebraker was also hired as consultant and an extra for the movie.  The result was an amazing, very realistic character—a character that that won Voight an Oscar for Best Actor.

“The fact that they [90210 producers] didn’t even audition [SAG actors] in chairs is their biggest sin,” explains Allen Rucker, acclaimed author, TV writer-producer, Chair of the Writers Guild of America West, Writers with Disabilities Committee and Co-Chair of the annual Media Access Awards.  “Casting people, it has been my experience, do care. The Casting Society of America, the casting guild and part of the consortium backing the annual Media Access Awards, definitely cares and is always promoting diversity casting. Most casters and producers down here [in LA] are not evil people. They are often unenlightened, sometimes lazy, and always under tremendous pressure to deliver.”

Rucker says the best way to get Hollywood to change and cast actors with disabilities to play a person with a disability is to contact the production company.  The same holds true for discrepancies like sitting on a foam cushion or using anti-tips. Other shows like medical or crime dramas hire consultants to get details correct because if they don’t the studio hears about it from their viewers. They should be held to the same standard when it comes to portraying a character with a disability—if enough people contact them perhaps they will get the big picture and hiring actors with a disability rather than a non-disabled actor “playing” somebody with a disability—a move that makes a much more powerful and realistic performance.

When contacting a production company, be sure to let them know which show you are contacting them about.

The production company for 90210 is CBS Television Studios:

CBS Studios Address:

7800 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA. 90036

General Phone Number:

323.575.2345

CBS Studios Website

http://www.cbs.com/

___________________________________________

Bob VogelBob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Bob Vogel and do not necessarily reflect the views of The ROHO Group. You can contact Bob Vogel by email at online.relations@therohogroup.com.

How To Go About Getting the Proper Back Support

Guest blog post by Bob Vogel

My previous column, The Importance of Back Support in Overall Health With SCI, discussed how crucial proper back support is; having a positive effect on everything from pressure reduction in the lower pelvis—meaning reduced risk of pressure ulcers—better posture, reducing or eliminating back and neck pain, healthier shoulders, to improved breathing.  This column is about how get the proper back support, including how to get it funded.

“There are a couple ways to go about getting the proper wheelchair back,” explains Tricia Garven, PT, ATP, Clinical Applications Manager at The ROHO Group. A rule of thumb is to have your wheelchair back evaluated each time you replace your wheelchair cushion—every three years, which is how often most insurance and funding sources will pay for a new cushion—something I wrote about last year in  “How Often Should You Replace Your Cushion?”

http://blog.therohogroup.com/index.php/2011/11/how-often-should-you-replace-your-cushion/

The steps on how to get properly evaluated for a wheelchair back and cushion (seating evaluation) start off with you being the squeaky wheel—you need to speak up and ask.  One way to start the process is to tell your physician you are due for a new cushion and ask for a referral to a seating clinic for a seating evaluation with a clinician—a PT (physical therapist) or OT (occupational therapist).

Another option for getting the process started is to contact your local DME (durable medical equipment) supplier and tell them you need a new cushion and require a seating evaluation to see if changes are needed in your current wheelchair back and/or cushion — they will be happy to guide you through the step-by-step process of getting the wheelchair back and cushion based on your seating needs.

If you don’t already have a working relationship with a DME supplier, locating one is your next step. ROHO makes this easy. To find a DME supplier go to www.therohogroup.com/where_to_buy.jsp and click on Buy from an Authorized Retailer Near You.

You can find Medicare DME provider(s) in your area by going to www.medicare.gov. Pull down Resource Locator on the main page, scroll down to Medicare Supplier Directory; from there type in your zip code and hit submit. On the next page check Wheelchair Seating/Cushions and hit View Results. The “default” setting on View Results is 10 miles — to find more DME supplier options it is helpful to expand the View All Suppliers Within (on the right side of the page) to a larger distance in order to find a Medicare DME provider that is also a ROHO authorized retailer.

Once you contact a DME supplier, be sure to ask the person working with you if they are an ATP (Assistive Technology Professional) and/or SMS (Seating and Mobility Specialist. These are credentialed professionals trained to identify postural (proper posture) and seating issues and have the knowledge to provide the appropriate back support and cushion solution to address your seating needs.  The ATP and/or SMS will gather your information, current wheelchair, wheelchair back, cushion, insurance information, etc. They will contact your physician and get a referral for a clinician to do your seating evaluation, or they can do the seating evaluation themselves.

The goal of a seating evaluation is to find out if your present wheelchair back and cushion is still appropriate, or whether your body has changed that may require an adjustment in your wheelchair back and/or cushion. “In order to make sure the back support is addressed during the evaluation, it is important to communicate with your clinician,” explains Garven. At the beginning of the seating evaluation, ask the clinician, “How does my posture look?  Does it look like my seat back is providing the proper support?  Would an aftermarket solid back improve my seating?”

Garven explains that changes in posture are gradual and can cause many problems including skin issues and reduction of function. During a seating evaluation it is important to tell your clinician if you have any redness or skin issues in the seated area of your pelvis, or back pain, or shoulder pain, or neck pain, or if you are finding it more difficult to push up hills or over small threshold—all of these are indicators of possible changes in posture. These changes can often be addressed and improved by proper back support. Garven explains that while most clinicians will put two and two together and look at back support as a way to address these issues, it is important for you to speak up and ask, “Is this something that additional back support can help?”

Most seating evaluations should include trying different wheelchair backs to ensure proper back support.  As an example, if somebody needs more posture support than their standard sling back provides, a clinician would put a ROHO® AGILITY™ Mid Contour Back System on their chair to see if it improves their posture.  When a wheelchair back maximizes posture and your function, the clinician has a match.  Following the seating evaluation, the clinician takes the information and writes a Letter of Medical Necessity to submit, along with a doctor’s prescription to the insurance company for the wheelchair back and cushion.

Sometimes circumstances require getting a new back support before it is time to get a new cushion.  Garven explains the sooner a posture issue is identified and addressed by proper back support the easier it is to correct. “Anytime you have issues that may be related to postural changes, like back pain, skin redness, shoulder pain, neck pain, trouble getting up hills or over small thresholds. You should bring this up with your doctor and ask if it may be a postural issue and ask for a referral to a seating clinic for a seating evaluation to look at a back support,” she says.

When it comes to funding wheelchair backs, Dave McCausland, Senior VP of Planning & Government Affairs for The ROHO Group explains that wheelchair backs are coded under Medicare (meaning they will be reimbursed with the proper documentation) and since Medicaid and private insurance companies tend to follow Medicare’s guidelines, he is confident that most will cover wheelchair backs as well.

Garven explains that the steps to get funding for wheelchair backs are the same as they are for cushions. That is, a Letter of Medical Necessity and a doctor’s prescription–like any custom mobility product, it is extremely important to make sure the exact make, model and manufacturer is on the Letter of Medical Necessity. For example, the Letter of Medical Necessity would include:

 

ROHO AGILITY Mid Contour Back System, 14“.

This ensures that your new wheelchair back is exactly what you tried, need and expect.  Although an ATP and/or SMS will know this, in order to get a wheelchair back funded, it is important that the Letter of Medical Necessity describes your “significant postural asymmetry” which is funding terminology for not sitting in a proper upright position, along with your diagnosis.

From there, the team gathers and organizes all the documentation. Then the DME supplier submits the paperwork to the insurance company for approval. If all goes well, your back (and cushion) is ordered and you receive the proper back support and are soon sitting up straighter, and looking and feeling good!

 

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Bob VogelBob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Bob Vogel and do not necessarily reflect the views of The ROHO Group. You can contact Bob Vogel by email at online.relations@therohogroup.com.

Aging and SCI: 4 Steps to Staying Healthy for the Long Haul

Guest blog post by Bob Vogel

 

The common saying that dogs resemble their owners (or is it the other way around?) — is becoming more apparent for Schatzie — my 10-year-old German Shepherd Service dog — and me these days. At 52, — 27 years as a T10 para — my goatee is graying at the same rate as Schatzie’s muzzle at 10. In the morning, my shoulders are stiff and sore. I can tell Schatzie’s hindquarters are a bit stiff when she first steps out of her crate, stretches and comes over to my bed to give me gentle nuzzle.

Staying healthy as we age with SCI is a frequent topic of discussion among the friends that I roll with — we seem to be aging quicker than our non-disabled acquaintances. I often joke that SCI ages us in dog years. Fortunately there are steps that can help avoid this accelerated aging process — steps that friends and I were lucky to have learned in our younger days from mentors and peers, who had often learned the hard way with bodies that wore out before their time. Following this advice and sharing it has helped us stay healthy for the long haul. Here are four simple steps to help stay healthy over the long haul.

 

1. Stay in Motion

Newton was right, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest, umm, doesn’t want to put down the TV remote and get up off of the couch. I spend a lot of time working at the computer which can leave me feeling lethargic, tired and/or a bit depressed — and all I want is the TV remote or a nap. Friends will remind me to go for a push, meet a friend for coffee, go for a handcycle ride. When I listen and do a social or physical activity I end up with much more energy, enthusiasm and creativity than if I had taken a nap.

Experts suggest a daily routine of 30-minutes of aerobic exercise is very important for overall health. This should be something fun and simple, like going on a 30-minute push in the chair. For me, choosing take Schatzie on a walk into town to get the mail, instead of taking the car, is relaxing and gets the endorphins moving. Another great way I grab a quick endorphin-producing workout during a busy day is by riding my handcycle on a stationary trainer for 30-45 minutes. As always, be sure to use a good cushion on the handcycle — I use a ROHO® LOW PROFILE® Dual Valve Cushion, custom made to fit my handcycle seat. In addition to more energy, the workout seems to sharpen my thoughts and helps keep me in good enough shape to enjoy weekend adventures. A good stationary trainer costs around $300 at bike shops, a little less online, and used ones at bargain prices can often be found on Craigslist.

 

2. Stay Trim and Light

As we age, metabolism slows down and it’s easy to put on a few extra pounds here and there until it really starts adding up. I hear stories of wheelers who put on weight that ends up causing a domino effect of problems, from shoulder trouble and pressure sores to type II diabetes. I also know wheelers that gained weight and through watching their food intake have managed loose lose it. I find keeping my weight under control is a bit easier if I check it on a scale every couple of days — if it starts to creep up I eat a bit less and try and exercise a bit more. I start by keeping an eye on my weight by transferring off of my chair onto my ROHO ADAPTOR PAD® on the bathroom floor, then transferring my butt onto the bathroom scale and lifting up my feet to check the scale. Doing this also helps me keep up my chair to floor — and back — transfer skills.

 

3. Keep Your Shoulders Balanced

Keep shoulders balanced. I learned this about 15 years after my injury when I had over-trained for an event and my shoulders were really hurting. I sought advice from a peer who had permanently damaged his shoulders from overuse. He explained shoulder damage is common in wheelchair users, often from overdeveloping the muscles in the front of the shoulders — which pulls the shoulders forward and out of balance. He explained the need to rest when shoulders they are sore or hurt, and do exercises — like rowing motions — to balance the back of the shoulder. He also suggested going to a sports medicine clinic and seeing a sports medicine physical therapist (PT). I took his advice, saw a Sports PT who, in turn, gave me a set of stretches and exercises that helped balance out my shoulders and over time relieved the pain. Sticking with those basic exercises and resting shoulders when they sore rather than “push through the pain” have kept them healthy — albeit a bit sore in the morning — to this day.

Anecdotally, a simple day-to-day trick to help keep shoulders in balance is get in the habit of backing your wheelchair up ramps and hills instead of pushing forward — this works the muscles in the back of the shoulders. Another way to balance shoulders is by handcycling and concentrating on the “pulling back” part of the cycle stroke and relaxing on the “pushing forward” part. For further information on ways to balance shoulders see resources.

 

4. Use the Proper Cushion and Do Daily Skin Checks

The most important advice I got from mentors and peers is to use the proper cushion and to continue doing the skin checks with a mirror like I was taught in rehab. Back in 1985, when I got out of rehab I was sent home on a memory foam cushion, despite asking my therapist for a ROHO Single Valve Cushion. I still remember my therapists faulty reasoning, “If I get you a ROHO you will get lazy and will rely on the cushion and won’t do as many weight shifts as you’re suppose to.” Looking back, all I can think is, “WHAT??!!” A few months out of rehab, despite constant weight shifts, an evening mirror check caught the first stage of a small pressure sore on my bony butt — I immediately got a ROHO Cushion and the sore healed. Fortunately, that was my one and only pressure sore. My skin remains healthy after 27-years (and counting) of diligently doing skin checks with a mirror every morning and evening combined with the proper cushion, a custom ROHO QUADTRO SELECT® MID PROFILE™ Cushion.

Unfortunately, I hear all too many stories of wheelers that never had a skin issue and for years had a minimal cushion and felt they didn’t have to worry about skin checks. Sadly, the story frequently changes somewhere between 10-20 years after their injury when a massive pressure sore strikes and they end up flat on their stomach in the hospital awaiting skin flap surgery — followed by months of recovery in a nursing home. I advise friends to take a few moments to check your skin with a mirror every morning and evening, along with making sure you have the proper cushion for your seating needs. That is the best insurance you can make to keep your skin healthy and avoid a pressure sore.

Stay healthy my friends!

 

Resources:

___________________________________________

Bob VogelBob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Bob Vogel and do not necessarily reflect the views of The ROHO Group. You can contact Bob Vogel by email at online.relations@therohogroup.com.

Dan Buchanan, International Airshow Performer, Mentor, ROHO User

Guest blog post by Bob Vogel

Dan Buchanan. Photo courtesy of Dan Buchanan.

Friends and mentors are priceless. In 1985, while still coming to grips with my spinal cord injury in the rehab hospital, a fellow hang-glider pilot named, Dan Buchanan, who is also a T8 complete para came to visit me. Dan’s visit helped me a great deal, mainly because in between dolling out tidbits of SCI survival wisdom he kept looking out the window. Within a short period of time he said “Man, the weather is looking really good for flying, so I gotta go. I’ll catch you later.” This was the perfect thing to say! The light went on! Dan’s life revolves around flying hang gliders! Paralysis wasn’t even on the radar screen.

Dan helped show me the ropes of thriving with SCI, everything from advice in ordering equipment: “Order the smallest chair you can fit into, and tell your therapist you want a ROHO cushion,” to helping me rig my hang glider and get back in the air. Over time we’ve become close friends and shared many adventures.

As I said, Dan’s life revolves around in flying hang gliders, so much so that in 1989 he left a successful career in mechanical engineering to pursue a path as a professional airshow hang glider pilot.

Dan devoted years into honing his routines, methodically developing, refining, and marketing his airshow performances. These days he is one of the most sought after air-show acts in on the circuit!

One of the many cool things about Dan’s airshow act is that it enables the general public to see beyond a wheelchair. His chair has nothing to do with the act. That is, until the finale.

To get airborne, Dan launches from a moving trailer driving down the runway at 35 mph. Once he is in the air, a winch on the trailer pays out line as Dan steadily tow-climbs to altitude as the trailer is towed down the runway. He has long colorful streamers and smoke from canisters trailing his glider. He has crafted several different routines, from an opening act flying with an American flag while the Star Spangle Banner plays, to night routines complete with lights and bright pyrotechnics.

Dan’s day show is a comedy act where he “mistakenly” launches during the middle of another performers aerobatic routine. The announcer, the other performer and Dan all exchange banter on the PA and “pretend” it is a mistake, but Dan refuses to leave the sky. Soon a police car is on the ground chasing the tow trailer and the aerobatic airplane tries to chase Dan out of the sky by buzzing his hang glider. Dan tries to chase the plane away by shooting special effects rockets and pyrotechnics, his version of a “3rd world warbird impression.” At this point Dan’s altitude is about 1,500 feet and he releases the tow rope and the announcer introduces him. He gently swoops, turns and glides down and rolls to a stop front of the audience.

An aerobatic airplane tries to "chase" Dan Buchanan out of the sky during airshow performance. Photo courtesy of Dan Buchanan.

This is when the announcer explains that Dan is a paraplegic, while overhead a helicopter delivers Dan’s wheelchair which is dangling from a cable. The aerobatic plane lands and tows Dan in his wheelchair over to the crowd where Dan shakes hands, answers questions and signs autographs.

Each year during the airshow season  —  April through October  —  Dan’s performances are seen by millions of people around the world as he travels to over 25 cities. To get from show to show requires driving more than 45,000 miles each summer. It is not uncommon for Dan to drive thousands of miles in a single week to get from one show to the next.

In addition to North America, Dan has performed in Australia, Japan, Thailand, El Salvador, The United Arab Emirates, Canada and Mexico  —  an exhausting travel schedule requiring lots of windshield time as well as sitting on very long commercial flights often across many time zones.

In December, Dan was honored by his peers on the airshow circuit when he received the Art Scholl Award for Showmanship at the International Council of Airshows (ICAS) convention banquet  —  one of the highest honors an airshow pilot can receive.

Last week I was fortunate enough to catch up with Dan via phone while he was doing a “short” 700-mile commute from North Carolina to Tennessee for his next show.

Bob Vogel (BV): Congratulations on the Art Scholl Award. Did you know it was coming?

Dan Buchanan (DB): No I didn’t. It was a complete surprise and a great honor  —  also a bit embarrassing. All the other pilots are flying planes, jets and helicopters that cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, and here I am flying a hang glider that cost around six-thousand dollars. But mainly it was a great honor.

BV: So I’m trying to do the math — how old are you and how many years have you been injured?

DB: I’m 56-years-old and this is my 31st year as a para.

BV: Wow! I’m 52 and 27 years post injury. It seems to me having a SCI ages us in dog years, how do you manage to keep healthy, especially with all of the travel, days of driving and overseas flights?

DB: Part of it is I come from the old school rehab where they drummed into you the how to take care of myself. I manage to keep myself thin so I’m not stressing my shoulders. I also do a skin check with a mirror every day. So far, so good.

BV: What kind of cushion are you sitting on these days?

DB: I’m sitting on a ROHO® QUADTRO SELECT® LOW PROFILE®. I love these things, I’ve been sitting on a ROHO ever since I was hurt. I wouldn’t sit on anything else. I’m not sponsored by them. I don’t even get a free cushion. In fact, I paid cash for my last cushion because I was about to head out of the country and didn’t have time to mess with prescriptions and insurance.

And I always make sure my ROHO is under me — on my car seat, on the seat on the airplane, you name it.

BV: So even with all of your travel, no pressure sores?

DB: Nope, I’ve never had a pressure sore. But I’ve dodged a pressure sore bullet. Years ago I got careless and was sitting on a seat without a cushion for a while and got the start of a pressure sore. Fortunately, I caught it during my mirror check the same day. I was on a ROHO HIGH PROFILE® Single Valve at the time…Sure enough it worked, and the area got a little better every day. Within two weeks it was gone.

I learned my lesson and always keep a cushion underneath me. And like I said, I check my skin with a mirror because I can’t afford to miss a show and I don’t ever want to end up on my stomach for a couple months trying to heal a pressure sore.

BV: Thanks Dan! Safe travels!

Thinking back to when Dan first visited me in rehab I remember asking him if he thought there would be a cure for SCI — something I secretly hoped for. He replied. “I don’t think so. But here is the deal, let’s say there is a cure in say 25-years. Project yourself 25-years in the future and think back on what you would have wanted to do. Live an amazing life full of adventure, or mope about waiting for a cure?” I took those words to heart. Here I am 27-adventure-filled-years later. Grateful for good advice from a good friend!

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Bob VogelBob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Bob Vogel and do not necessarily reflect the views of The ROHO Group. You can contact Bob Vogel by email at online.relations@therohogroup.com.

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