A charity group called Segs4Vets is giving away dozens of Segways for injured soldiers that are undergoing therapy and have trouble walking. Many can stand, but walking is more difficult, and for them a Segway is proving to be a much better solution than a wheelchair.
Although not approved as a medical device, disabled veterans report that the Segways give them greater mobility. Therapists say they could be part of a future movement for the industry because they force soldiers to stand longer, which helps them is getting used to their prosthetic limbs.
“We’re in the walking business,” says Mark Heniser, a physical therapist at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. “We are giving these guys … knees with microprocessors that cost tens of thousands of dollars. We want them to use them. This will help them walk more efficiently.”
Segs4Vets was created by St. Louis businessman Jerry Kerr, who suffered a spinal cord injury nine years ago. Kerr, a home builder and real estate developer, shattered a vertebra in his neck in a diving accident at his lake house in 1998. After years of therapy, Kerr regained the ability to stand and has some control of his hands, but can hardly walk.
Kerr, 53, was among the first to buy a battery-operated Segway, shortly after the device was introduced in 2001. He used it around his house for everyday getting around and for trips, such as when he toured Yosemite National Park. He liked being able to talk to people eye to eye despite his injury.
And something else happened.
“The more I used it, the stronger I got,” Kerr says. “All those balancing muscles that disappeared started coming back.”
Hearing about soldiers and Marines who lost limbs fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan got Kerr thinking about how he could help. He wanted to honor their sacrifice and see if they also could benefit from Segways.