Meet Christina from Butte Falls, a tiny logging community in Jackson County founded in the early 20th century. It has just over 400 residents. Christina’s a mother of four, grandmother of one. She and her husband also have a dog, 18 chickens and two kittens.
Since a car accident in 1986, Christina has been paralyzed completely from the waist down. After fusion surgery from her shoulder bones to her tailbone in 2005, she has experienced complete stiffness in her upper body area—which prevents her from twisting, turning, or bending from the waist.
Her ability to be independent, and do things for herself and her family completely depends on her ability to access things. To do that, she needs a power wheelchair that has a chairlift. Her chairlift makes it possible to prepare meals and accomplish some of her personal care on her own.
Christina purchased a power wheelchair through Medicaid that was a “lemon.” We worked with her to request a replacement. We also helped her secure coverage for a chairlift for her new power wheelchair. We argued that it was medically necessary and a reasonable accommodation for her to be able to access her community. This not only benefits Christina’s physical and mental health, but creates cost-savings because her need for a caregiver is diminished.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I met my husband Jerry, when I was 20. We’ve been married nearly 30 years. My family and I live in Butte Falls. Everybody knows everybody. It’s a nice little town.
We live up on a butte. There’s actually a falls here that’s below us. The logging that started the town eventually went went downhill. My dad worked for Medco for years driving a Caterpillar D9, a large tractor that pushes dirt or pulls logs. There’s still some logging today, but it’s not like it was when I was a kid.
I have four kids: Charles (27), Elizabeth (25), Megan (18), and Sean (16). They grew up with me being in a wheelchair, and helped me. When Charles and Elizabeth were little, I had my mother- and father-in-law to help out, but, basically, I did it by myself when Jerry was working. I drove our kids to school, the dentist, and the doctor. When we moved up here in 2000, Charles and Elizabeth, who were older by that time, helped me with Megan and Sean.
Having a mom with a disability teaches them about life. It taught all of my children how to be empathetic and how to care for people.
I have a van with controls. When Charles was little, I’d get into the passenger side and transfer to the driver’s seat. Before I did, I folded up my wheelchair and put the front wheels against the sliding door of the van. Charles, who was six or seven at the time, would pick the wheelchair, turn it sideways, and put it into the van.
Q: Can you tell us about the limits to your mobility?
I became paralyzed from the waist down when I was 17. I broke my back at T8 and T9 around the rib cage area. T8 moved over on top of T9 and bruised my spinal cord severely. I can feel a tingly sensation in my leg. I’m getting some feeling back. I can feel the cold air on my ankles when I go outside on a crisp morning.
My pain is delayed. When something happens, I feel it a few minutes later.
Before I had surgery in 2005, I was more independent. I was pushing a wheelchair and did all of my things myself. Since 2005, I’ve been less independent with some things, but just as independent with others, like driving my van.
Q: What do you rely on your power wheelchair for?
I use a wheelchair to get around every waking hour of the day from 8:00 a.m. until we go to bed. There’s a bolt in the bottom of my wheelchair that hooks into a lock-down in the van, so I can drive the van with my hand control. That helps me to be independent. I go out and go shopping, go see a movie, or even to the county fair.
Q: What was the problem you faced when you approached DRO for help?
I had two problems, really. First, I had a brand new power wheelchair that broke right away. Three days after receiving it, it wasn’t working at all. I had to take it to the repair shop. The motor was a “lemon,” which made the whole chair a lemon. I needed an entirely different power wheelchair.
Unfortunately, I had purchased a lift for that wheelchair. I got reimbursed for the cost of the lift. But when I got a new wheelchair, the insurance didn’t want to pay for a new lift. And I needed that lift so that I could be independent.
Q: How did DRO help?
Attorney Jan Friedman helped me to get a new wheelchair. It took a long time. It took even longer to get the lift. The insurance wouldn’t pay for a lift. I went back to Jan and asked her if she would help me go to court to get insurance to cover it.
I have both Medicare and Medicaid. My Medicaid provider denied coverage for this chairlift. When we went to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, part of my evidence was photographs of myself in my wheelchair attempting to get things out of the cupboard and freezer — different things in my house that I couldn’t reach. I also had the strong support of my doctor. Fortunately, we won.
But even after I won, the insurance still tried to delay getting me a new lift. They waited until almost a year had passed. Finally, I told them that I needed the lift for a doctor’s appointment, and then the company okay’ed the lift. Now I have a working power wheelchair with a chairlift.
Q: How has the new power wheelchair made a difference in your life?
I needed a power wheelchair that functions. My prior wheelchair was at the shop a lot and still not working. Having a power wheelchair that works is huge because I spend all of my waking hours in my power wheelchair.
Q: How has the lift, in particular, been helpful?
The chairlift helps me to get things out of the cupboard or freezer. I can water my plants that are up on top of the refrigerator. I can reach into the freezer. I can get things off of the top shelf of my pantry. Before my lift, I was limited to the pantry’s bottom shelves and could reach the third shelf up and the cans in the front. Now I can reach the things in the very back of the shelf and things that are stored on the top shelf. There are shelves in the washroom that I couldn’t reach before, but now I can. That helps me to be independent.
It allows me to brush my teeth over the sink. I don’t have to spit in a cup or bowl instead. I can raise up, look in the mirror, and brush my hair.
My hands aren’t paralyzed so I can do my laundry, clean, and do some cooking. With my chairlift, I can see into a pot on the stove if I’m boiling eggs. Without the lift, it would be dangerous because I’d have to pull the pot over to see if it’s boiling. I’m able to take one-handed pans to the sink. I can clean off the counters and wash dishes. When I go into a motel room, if the bed is higher than my chair is where I’m sitting, the lift helps me raise up to get in the bed. Otherwise, in the past, I’ve had to use sliding boards, which are dangerous. The lift is really helpful for transfers.
Q: What would you want other people who may be in situations similar to the one that you were in to know?
It took so long to get this chair and it was so hard to get this done. I know there are other people out there who need the same thing, or they’re fighting for something they need and they can’t get it because the insurance won’t pay for it.
For people in similar situations, they should call Disability Rights Oregon. They take the pressure and the stress off of you by helping. My attorney Jan was so helpful. If you don’t feel like you can write a demand letter or if you don’t have a computer, they can help with the demand letter.