Curtis Instruments’ Wheelchair Video: Speaking from the Heart

To a seating & mobility professional, the process of acquiring a wheelchair for a client - the evaluations, HCPCS codes, allowables and documentation - can feel as natural as a heartbeat.

But to a consumer, the process can be long, confusing and frustrating. And for consumers who've been ambulatory in the past, making the change can be especially jarring.

A new video by Curtis Instruments seeks to make that transition easier by sharing the experiences of an actual new wheelchair user.

Creating a Resource

The folks at Curtis Instruments took this project personally. It started when Frank Matheis, Curtis Instruments' director of corporate marketing communications, was approached by a colleague.

"One of my graphic artists called me and said, 'My brother-in-law needs to get into a wheelchair. Can you help us?'" Matheis said.

Given that Curtis manufactures the electronics used by many power wheelchairs in the industry, Matheis was confident the company could help out. But when he approached Curtis's president, he advised Matheis to consult Mike Rozaieski, ATP, Curtis's product manager for medical mobility.

While Matheis had envisioned choosing a wheelchair would be much like choosing a lawnmower or other retail product, Rozaieski told him, "It doesn't really work like that. Let me explain it to you."

Rozaieski recommended contacting an occupational therapist as well as the consumer's insurance provider.

"We work with wheelchair manufacturers to provide the drive technology," Matheis said of Curtis Instruments' business. "For us here, it's a matter of technology for people. But we don't often get to know these people because we don't sell the wheelchairs."

Rozaieski helped connect the would-be wheelchair user - Conway Policastro - with a local OT in New Jersey. "They went through the very normal process, the way anybody else would," Matheis said. "And when it was all done, it took six months, but Conway had a chair that was fitted to him."

The Curtis staffer who'd started the wheel rolling told Matheis he hadn't realized the process for acquiring the right wheelchair. "And I said, 'Mike, do people all have this experience? Are they all so completely baffled by the complicated method of what's ahead of them?'" Matheis recalled. "And he said yes, pretty much."

Matheis then asked Rozaieski if there was "a tool that explains this to people, so that before they get involved in anything, they would know what they're facing. He said not that he's aware of. So I said, 'Why don't we make one?'"

Speaking from the Heart

The result is "Transitioning Into a Wheelchair: An Introduction to Medical Mobility." The 12-minute video stars Policastro, who has Charcot-Marie Tooth muscular dystrophy and post-polio syndrome.

The film takes consumers through the wheelchair acquisition process, showing small but critical details, such as the need for "specifically and only a mobility exam" by the wheelchair prescriber.

Some scenes were filmed at Ability Beyond Disability, a local rehabilitation facility, while others were filmed in the community.

Policastro said of his scenes, "It was totally unscripted, just speaking from my heart."

In the beginning of the process, he added, "I was very resistant and reluctant to the notion of being 'a wheelchair guy.' My sister and my mom and other family members and friends were very supportive: 'Don't be resistant; lean into it. You need this, you're falling too much.'"

Policastro said he finally agreed and was evaluated and fitted at a local Kessler Institute during four visits. The emotional journey, though, was longer.

"First, no," Policastro recalled. "Then, Okay, you're twisting my arm so I'll do it. A month before it arrived, it was Hey, where's my chair? And now that I have it, it's like Don't you dare take away my chair!"

In the video, Policastro is initially shown walking laboriously. "The most difficult aspect for me transitioning into a wheelchair," he says in the film, "was dealing with the concept of it: You're no longer a walking guy, you're in the chair now. But I'm so glad I worked through that because the chair itself is what really changed my mind."

The video covers documentation, justification and funding, and ultimately shows Policastro moving independently and freely through his neighborhood.

Now, he remembers how walking had become mentally and emotionally draining, in addition to physically difficult, and compares those memories to how his life has improved. "Every morning I wake up with a smile on my face, knowing I have this thing at my bidding, so to speak," he said. "When I walk from here to the diner and friends are with me, sometimes I'll put it in third gear and they'll say, 'Wait, wait!' And I was usually the one lagging behind when I was walking."

Matheis said, "My big hope is that [clinicians and ATPs] find this resource useful for their own clients. We're hoping they'll tell somebody to watch this, this can help you. That's our only stake in this."

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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