New wheelchair offers hope to wounded veteran

Casey Owen (left) and Jeff Adams of Icon Wheelchairs assemble Owen's custom-fitted chair. CBS

Casey Owens lost both his legs in 2004 when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb in western Iraq. That was the beginning of his ordeal. In the eight years since then, Owens has endured multiple amputations -- surgeons having to cut off more of the remaining leg bone due to complications.

Four years ago, Owens told us, he spent six months in excruciating pain while officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs reviewed and finally approved a surgery which took his right femur down to 10 centimeters. Having such a short stump makes wearing a prosthetic more difficult -- while Owens does still walk on prosthetic legs, a wheelchair is a good way for him to get around.

A group of friends took up a collection to get Owens a new high-tech wheelchair and they chose one from ICON; Jeff Adams, one of the founders of the company flew to Denver to put it together and fit it to Owens body. It turns out the fit of a chair is extremely important to the person riding in it.

"Wheelchairs have come a long way," said Jeff Adams, one of the founders of ICON Wheelchair.

Inside Icon Wheelchairs: Web extra

For those who need wheelchairs, having one that fits is paramount, Adams noted."It's a piece of equipment that we rely on for everything that we do in our lives -- and it has to perform," he said.

And Adams should know -- he's a world-class athlete, a racer who has won 13 medals in the Paralympics.

As an athlete, Adams watched technology transform his sport. None of it, however, was being applied to the everyday wheelchair.

"I just saw so many people that I knew, these friends of mine in chairs that didn't work and didn't fit." Adams said. A poor fit causes pain; it reduces mobility and can drastically reduce your quality of life.

Yet getting the perfect fit isn't easy, and it doesn't last, according to Adams.

"Even when everything goes right and the chair fits just right, then you're telling the person don't change a single thing, don't gain weight, don't lose weight, don't get a different cushion, don't get new shoes. You can't change a single thing or your wheel chair might not fit," he said.

So Adams and his partners set out to build wheelchairs that would adjust to the size -- and the needs -- of the people in them. They took Adams' father as their model. He was a welder who used to adjust Adams' wheelchair from the very beginning. "I was lucky," Adams said, noting that a recent poll by Rutgers University found 80 percent of Americans in wheelchairs are in wheelchairs that don't fit.

Jeff Adams wants to change that.

  • Mary Walsh

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