Staying Active on the Road

When Dave Crowley was 18, he had an auto accident where his vehicle went over a cliff. After he was told that his injuries resulted in C6-7 incomplete quadriplegia, Crowley says, “The first couple of years were pretty rough.” Always being an active man, Crowley soon connected with friends in similar situations he met during his six months of rehabilitation following his injuries. His friends introduced him to wheelchair basketball, and soon he was involved in wheelchair sports such as wheelchair rugby and road-racing, 10Ks and marathons. “You are either going to sit in a closet and lick your wounds, or get out and live your life,” Crowley says.

Now at age 50, Crowley has three children and is the CEO of a unique business about 50 feet from his home, Tuff Dogg Enterprises in Deckerville, Mich. (near Port Sanilac). Crowley is a provider of Kinedyne tiedowns for cargo and secure loads, as well as wheelchair tiedowns for mass transit, including school districts, hotel shuttles and taxicab services. He also helps other people figure out what applications of van conversions are best suited to their needs.

Admittedly tough on his equipment and inherently active, Crowley says he had to switch from a manual chair to a power chair in the last five years as a result of shoulder injuries from repetitive strain. After a recent and extensive shoulder surgery for rotator cuff problems, Crowley began to rethink all of transfers he was making each day in and out of his van and the wear and tear those transfers had caused.

“I live in a very rural area, so whenever I needed something, I had to drive into town,” Crowley says. “To minimize the number of times I had to get in and out of my van and in out of my wheelchair, I tried to hit the grocery store, pharmacy, bank, post office, with the fewest stops possible. Even at that, I found myself making anywhere from eight to 12 transfers per trip.”

Sometimes Crowley would want to make a quick stop to do some business for Tuff Dogg, but when he factored in the time it would take and the strain it would cause, he knew he was done making transfers for that day.

The Equipment:
•    Ford E150 Van
•    Braun Crow River Lift
•    Innovation In Motion, Extreme X4 Power Chair
•    Invacare TDX Power Chair  
•    Sure Lok and Freedom Lift Corp.’s Dock ‘N’ Lock

Challenge: Crowley needed a way to significantly reduce the number of transfers he was making on a daily basis.

Solution: Crowley had Sure Lok and Freedom Lift Corp.’s Dock ‘N’ Lock system installed on the driver’s side of the van: “I wish I did it a long time ago; it would have saved me a lot of pain and trouble.”

Crowley says the Dock N’ Lock system has enough safety features in it to let the user know when he or she isn’t quite locked in. “It has a warning buzzer to let you know, and it has a manual-release lock in case there is a power failure.”

Dock ‘N’ Lock has low-profile wheelchair brackets that facilitate maximum ground clearance to enhance maneuverability and minimize potential snagging on uneven surfaces, thresholds and carpets. The system enables docking and minimizes movement of the client for greater occupant protection and comfort. A dual-arm mechanism provides smooth entry and stability due to a dual-locking arm mechanism.

“Now I just pull up in the van, click and I am gone,” Crowley says.

A fixed sub-plate mount gives installers greater accessibility to the unit, and stackable elevation plates facilitate adjustment of the docking module to the proper height. A dash-mounted electrical release button with visual and audible warning indicators allows for quick release of the wheelchair.

After removal of the swivel seat in Crowley’s van, and the installation of Dock ‘N’ Lock, Crowley noticed that he liked the low-profile bracket compared with docking pegs that protrude from under other wheelchairs. “It will breeze over anything,” he says.
“Transfers are now a non-factor,” he adds. “I can stop whenever and wherever I want. I used to eat a lot of drive-through fast food because it was too much of a hassle to stop at a restaurant.”

And with 160,000 miles on his 2000 van, Crowley needed a system that would support his active lifestyle. Crowley uses his Innovation In Motion Extreme X4 power chair for hunting and fishing, and calls his Invacare TDX power chair his “everyday chair.”
“My Invacare TDX chair has a full tilt, which is extremely important for pressure relief and going down hills and ramps,” he says.

In retrospect, Crowley says he wishes he got a power chair in addition to his manual chair years ago. “It used to be that power chairs were thought to be for sissies, especially if you are young and you can push. But I wish I would have utilized one earlier on because in certain situations, like out in the woods, it’s a tool. When I was pushing my manual chair, it was on hard surfaces, like to play basketball. But when I am planting a garden or in the woods, a power chair makes sense. If clients have the resources to do it, they should have both. You can save some wear and tear if you use both types of chairs in different situations.”

Since Crowley is still recovering from his shoulder surgery, he is still driving, but only short distances. “I am not up to heavy traffic right now with my shoulder injuries, but I am getting there again. I am still doing therapy a few times per week. I am recovering,” he says.

Saying he has days where he feels like he is 20 and other days when he feels like he is 80, Crowley says his mobility equipment supports his active lifestyle and his toughness on his equipment. Being in the unique position of provider and end-user, Crowley says, “Any able-bodied person who knows their product can know what I know.” But he admits that people who are in chairs have a “sharper edge.”

“OTs know the equipment, but they get up and walk home. I know exactly how the equipment works,” Crowley says.

Crowley’s advice to people who are just facing spinal cord injuries as he did at 18: “Don’t let the chair stop anything you are doing. You can still make it so you can live the way you did before. Keep on going. Keep plugging.”

And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

To contact Dave, e-mail him at dave@tuffdog.com or visit his Web site at www.tuffdogg.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Mobility Management.

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