By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital has come up with a prototype of a standing wheelchair.

They hope it will help paralyzed veterans live more productive lives.

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It’s not the first standing wheelchair, but this one has significant advances over previous designs.

For the first time in more than 20 years, John Christensen can reach a book on the top shelf without any help.

“Makes life a little easier,” Christensen said. “You don’t have to ask anybody to do something for you.”

Christensen is one of the first to test the chair, designed at the Minneapolis VA.

Dr. Gary Goldish took an existing standing wheelchair, and with the input of engineers and veterans, came up with design chances.

“We modified it by adding a drive wheel that separated the push rim from the tire,” Goldish said.

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The design allows the push rim to come up so it can be accessed in the standing position, much the same way it is while sitting.

“We want to make the movement as natural, as similar to wheeling in a seated position as possible,” he said.

The chair’s four wheels are on the ground at all times.

“The tire is on the ground each time, but it’s just transferring the load between the front and back faster,” Goldish said. “And that’s what makes it stable and mobile.”

Just a few clicks of the chair transform it, giving paraplegic patients increased functional reach, improved sense of well-being and a potential reduction in pressure sores.

For Christensen, it means shooting baskets from a standing position again, something he has not done in years.

Paralyzed Veterans of America provided funding for this first prototype.

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Several design changes still need to be made before the wheelchair is ready for marketing.

Reg Chapman