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Wounded veterans use Segways to increase mobility, quality of life

Leonard Timm, right, co-founder of Disability Rights Advocates for Technology, gives wounded veterans some pointers on using their new Segways at Arlington, Va.

EMILY BROWN / S&S

By PATRICK THORNTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 10, 2008

WASHINGTON — Dozens of veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan came to Arlington, Va., on Tuesday to learn a rather unconventional way to win back some of the mobility they lost — a Segway.

Segs4Vets, a project of Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (DRAFT) has awarded 150 Segways since 2006 to disabled veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to help improve their lives. Thirty veterans were able to attend a ceremony at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington on Wednesday to receive their Segways. Dozens more who couldn’t make the ceremony will also receive Segways.

The Segway was envisioned as a revolution in personal transportation and as such is not recognized as a medical device by the FDA, nor are Segways covered by military medical insurance.

Segway creator Dean Kamen famously predicted to USA Today that the device would be “to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” Few would agree, but it has become a revolutionary device for disabled people and veterans.

A group of disabled veterans got acclimated to their new Segways on Tuesday, and many spoke about how they believe the Segway will change their lives. They started off learning how to move forward and back, while also practicing some basic maneuverability through cones. Then it was time to find out what these things could really do.

They spent the afternoon practicing on hills before going out on the Mount Vernon Trail for an extended ride. Some of the veterans had a hard time keeping their Segways in “Turtle” mode, a low speed mode for beginners. By the end of the day the veterans were ready to take their Segways home.

Segways use a sophisticated system to move riders based on simple shift in weight. Lean forward and the machine rolls ahead, lean backwards and it slows to a stop before heading in reverse.

Segways allow disabled veterans to conserve energy for class, physical therapy and other activities that are often difficult to perform with a wheelchair.

National Guard Staff Sgt. Jon Kreisel has two young sons, 5 and 6, that he has had trouble keeping up with since his Humvee hit an IED in December 2006 near Fallujah, Iraq. The result was an above-the-knee amputation of his left leg and a below-the-knee amputation of his right leg.

Kreisel said the Segway will improve his quality of life and his family’s as well.

“Now when they want to ride their bikes, I can be right next to them,” he said. “As much as my life has been affected by what happened, theirs have been affected, too.”

Segways also have health benefits. Of the 62 veterans who will receive Segways this spring, 57 lost one or both legs to amputation, and five suffer from soft tissue and neurological damage.

Unlike when in a wheelchair, disabled veterans stand while using Segways, which can increase bone density, improve circulation, lower blood pressure and improve bladder and bowel functions, according to Jerry Kerr, founder of Segs4Vets.

Kerr, who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident, has been using a Segway for a few years. He said it was very easy to learn and it only takes a few days for it to become second nature.

Disabled vets also find Segways superior to wheelchairs because they instill a sense of confidence. Unlike wheelchairs, Segway users are at eye level with people standing up.

“The act of standing allows us to see eye-to-eye, and it’s a real psychological boost,” Kerr said.

Lt. Col. Gregory Gadson, who was injured in May 2007 in Iraq when his vehicle hit an IED, said the Segway extends his range, allowing him to go places he normally wouldn’t.

“I can walk,” he said about using his prosthesis without a wheelchair or Segway, “but I usually just walk where I have to go.”

Segs4Vets receives no funding from Segway Inc. All of the Segways were purchased with funds from private donors.

Veterans interested in applying for the Segs4Vets program can find an application at www.segs4vets.com. To be eligible, a veteran must have incurred illness or injury resulting in a permanent disability after Sept. 11, 2001, while serving under one of the following conditions: armed conflict, hazardous service, conditions simulating war, instrumentality of war, combat operation or in a combat zone.


See more photos of the veterans and their new Segways here.

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