Disabled Iraq veteran and volunteer finds ‘mental health boosting’ powerchair
Medically retired Royal Air Force veteran Helen, 41 from Erskine, has be able to regain meaning to her life by being able to resume activities she struggled to do such as walking her dog and continuing to volunteer, thanks to a uniquely powered wheelchair known as a WHILL from TGA.
Helen lives independently at the Erskine Veterans Village near Glasgow. She was an Intelligence Analyst for over seven years however she was medically discharged from the RAF in 2008 due to injuries sustained on an operational tour of Iraq in 2005. Helen now lives with health challenges and needs a wheelchair to remain mobile. Using a manual wheelchair meant Helen could still access many parts of her life but one big aspect was becoming impossible – walking her dog, Rolo. She needed to find a solution quick to keep him and protect both their mental health and wellbeing – the WHILL C2 powered wheelchair proved the life changing answer.
Helen has nicknamed her TGA powered wheelchair ‘Wilma.’ She says “I wanted to be seen first and then my powered chair seen after noticing me, so the minimalistic design fitted my ideal. I now blend in without that big arrow pointing at me and shouting ‘disabled!’ I don’t have to ask for help as much and can avoid the embarrassment of accidently knocking off racks of clothes in department stores. Instead, I can manoeuvre around shops without doing 10-point turns all the time. I can spin on a penny. I have more confidence Wilma’s debut test was a trip to London on the train by myself, and it was liberating to not have to be pushed up the ramp onto the train or taxi because Wilma did it all.”
Being able to go shopping or visit her mum more easily are huge, however the most important change has been on the daily dog walk. Rolo, a five-year-old Hungarian Vizsla is Helen’s treasured companion who she says ‘kept her alive’ especially during lockdowns. Without the WHILL, Helen would be reliant on employing a dog walker daily, as she continues, “The main thing is that I’ve been able to keep Rolo. I was trying to walk him when self-propelling my manual wheelchair or using crutches, however it was just too difficult and tiring. I’d be in so much pain and get so exhausted, I’d have to go to bed when I got home. This meant we were not getting out as much as we should, I felt I was failing Rolo’s needs. Now with ‘Wilma everything’s changed, I can take him on a lead around the village and let him off in the woods at the back. I drive my WHILL with one hand and hold his lead with the other.”
“I like the non-traditional joystick as it’s a pad that fits in your palm. Bells and whistles on products have always appealed to me so I loved the fact that via Bluetooth you can connect your WHILL to your smartphone to check the battery and to remote park it. It will fit in my car boot and soon I’ll have a hoist to do all the lifting into my new Motability SUV.”
Helen’s WHILL helps manage her pain by enabling her to better paced herself. She can conserve energy for tasks around the home as the strain of longer distances outdoors are solved by her powerchair. Helen then has more strength to enjoy group activities in the Veteran’s activity centre at Erskine Hospital and help volunteer with The Micah Project at St Meddans Church in, Troon, which, amongst several services, distributes donated clothes, medical supplies and toiletries to needy people including families displaced from Ukraine.
As well as volunteering for a charity, Helen has herself been helped by charities. The sports recovery team at Help For Heroes helped her get back to swimming and cycling and she was able to compete at the Warrior Games in America twice bringing home gold and bronze medals both times. She also receives ongoing support from Combat Stress and The Not Forgotten Association who recently invited her to its garden party at Buckingham Palace. Helen’s WHILL ‘has just turned up at the right time’.
She concludes, “I can now dress up properly when I go to Buckingham Palace. Previously my dresses would get dirty or torn as they got caught under my wheelchair castors. Plus, self-propelling always meant my hands and sleeves were dirty from the wheel rims. Avoiding your nails getting cracked was also impossible – all a nightmare if you wanted to look nice seeing friends or going out for dinner. Now I can go to London on the train, in my WHILL, and feel happy and full of self-esteem. When I’m back I’m so looking forward to my perfect Sundays – a walk in a country park with Rolo followed by a carvery. Being able to enjoy these simple pleasures I believe are vital for your mental health, my WHILL has been the way to get my life back.”