October 2011

Veterans’ Disability Benefits: A Constant Maze of Confusion

The Disability Benefits Maze

John Sanders has been navigating the confusing and frustrating maze set up by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and their disabled veterans benefits since he became a quadriplegic after being shot in the back while stationed in Saigon at the age of 23. Now 65, Sanders has lived a full life despite being a person with disabilities. He’s an avid reader and can chat for hours. He goes out with his aide everyday in his specially equipped wheelchair van. His positive outlook dims only when he is met with the challenge of planning a monthly budget on his fixed income, paying his rising insurance costs, and trying to understand the complex disability benefits maze. His current dilemma is getting the money to widen his bedroom door to accommodate the new bed he got courtesy of the VA. It will cost a little over $1,200 to get it done.

Sanders could get the money from either his Home Improvement and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant, or his Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant–or so it may seem. If he uses funds from his SAH grant, of which he has an available $3,995, he loses the remainder for future repairs. Sanders used his lifetime $4,100 limit of his HISA grant. When the HISA grant amounts were increased to $6,800 in 2010, the increase excluded existing recipients. A spokesman for Veterans Affairs said that he was looking for another solution for Mr. Sanders, but Congress set the grants’ guidelines.

“It looks from the history of this thing that Mr. Sanders has gotten every benefit he has ever asked for and gotten them very quickly,” said Tom Pamperin, deputy under secretary for disability assistance at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

Sanders gives the VA credit for being more helpful in recent years, however, his earlier experiences has left him dreading every time he has to deal with them. He tells of one experience in particular, when he submitted a request for voice-recognition software that would enable him to do everything from controlling his thermostat and lights to writing letters to friends and family. At the time, he was totally dependent on his mother. A criteria for approval was that the software would improve his quality of life.

He was flabbergasted when, after interviewing with a psychologist at the VA office, he received a denial letter, which stated: “You are currently independent and the requested equipment is not seen to significantly increase your independence or decrease your dependence within the family and community.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said angrily. “How was I independent?”

In response to hearing Sanders’ rejection letter, Pamperin stated, “In a perfect world, things like that wouldn’t happen. You have people who are trying to do the best job possible, and they make judgment calls about things. I’m sure that seemed like a reasonable assessment to that clinician.”

Sanders finally got the software after numerous appeals and some help from a paraplegic friend who worked for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Those first six months, it was like, ‘I’m back in the game,’” he said. “I wrote letter after letter to everyone. After several months, my brother said, ‘Have you ever heard of e-mail?”

The Disability Benefits Maze

When he’s not trying to unravel the disability benefits puzzle, Sanders’ juggles his monthly expenses. Most of his disability check goes toward his care. He pays two aides and has to pay for fuel and maintenance for his van and house. Then there are electric bills that are as high as $350 a month. His sister and brother-in-law live with him rent-free to help out after the aides leave. However, he is still haunted by a financially difficult year in 1998 after his mother’s death when he needed to hire a live-in aide for around-the-clock care.

Then there’s his homeowner’s insurance. His yearly premium increased from $2,980 in 2010 to his current premium of $3,150, which is at least still less than the $3,700 high he paid in 2009. Steep insurance costs are nothing new for Florida homeowners, but Sanders feels the crunch because his disability checks have not been adjusted. A USAA insurance representative reviewed his homeowner’s policy and discovered some erroneously listed items that, once adjusted, would reduce his premium by $500. Sanders’ previous carrier dropped him in 2010, and he felt he’d better stay with his current state-supported insurer or risk being dropped again, despite the potential savings.

For this most recent home renovation to make his bedroom doorway more accessible, he will likely have to sacrifice the remaining money in the SAH grant–that is, unless he can find something else that needs repair for the remainder of the funds and can be approved at the same time.

Sanders realized a long time ago that he must stay on top of his finances and the benefits system in order to stay ahead of the game. “I don’t see how anyone could do anything else,” he said. ”There is no other option.”


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Power Struggles as Insurers Delay Power Wheelchair Approvals

Insurers Slow to Approve Power Wheelchairs

Insurers and Medicare are increasingly delaying and denying requests for more expensive and customized power wheelchairs, placing fraud prevention and cost cutting above improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities. As a result, patients are often forced to settle for lesser chairs that don’t adequately meet their needs or be confined to bed while waiting months–or longer–for an appeal decision.

Sometimes that wait can be tragically too long. Nexus Medical technology professional called an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patient to give her the news that her request for a new chair had been approved–after months of battling with her insurer–only to be told by her son that she had passed away.

Fortunately for 27-year-old Samantha Lorey, she did get her power wheelchair approved before it was too late, but only after 3 appeals and many months of denials. Lorey has spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that progressively causes muscle weakness and degeneration and death. According to doctors, Lorey shouldn’t have made it past the age of 2, yet she lived long enough to now need the third wheelchair in her life–a powerchair that can aid her in attempts to keep her mobility, despite her disease’s progression of immobilizing her. At this point, she can move her hands just enough to maneuver her a motorized wheelchair, but she can’t raise them if her arms fall in her lap, and she cannot move her legs at all.

To say that time is precious in Lorey’s life is an understatement, a concept that her insurance company never seemed to grasp. Lorey’s condition had deteriorated severely in the time it took to get approved and fitted for her current power wheelchair. It had become too painful to sit in her old chair, which was falling apart. She required more support to sit upright. She attended her third appeal hearing on a windy day she feared would harm her fragile lungs.

“They went through every nut and bolt on this chair,” according to Lorey’s mother of their third appeal. A few days later, Lorey’s request was approved, and the long ordeal was over, but the entire experience left Lorey drained and frustrated.

“We had all the documents in order,” she said. “It’s like they didn’t even look at it. They denied it to deny it.”

Insurers dispute patients’ claims that denial rates are higher than ever, insisting that they merely are doing what they have to do in order to curb fraud and make sure money is spent wisely. One insurer told the Philadelphia Inquirer that they denied only 38 claims for power wheelchairs in 2010, a denial rate he considered “fleetingly small.” A spokesperson for Lorey’s insurer, who refused to discuss her case, also defends insurers, saying that it can be difficult to determine what accessories and equipment requests are “medically necessary.”

Medicare Power Wheelchair Claims

Insurers claim it’s not personal; they are simply looking out for the bottom line. Power wheelchairs can cost more than $17,000, and the total amount of insurance funding for motorized chairs increased from $59 million to over a billion in 2003, at which time the government began to crack down on fraud. Medicare’s motorized wheelchair spending steadily decreased to $728 million in 2010, with another $300 million spent on manual wheelchairs. A Medicare official said the crackdown was necessary to curb “significant over-utilization.” Now Medicare limits funding to wheelchairs a patient can use in their homes, not the more complex ones that can improve quality of life and enable a person with disabilities to go work or go to school. Private insurers are following Medicare’s lead.

The people who are involved in submitting claims tell a different story, however. One occupational therapist said she spends almost 40 percent of her time writing appeals, more than she ever did in her 20-year career. Another physical therapist shared similar experiences, averring that insurers have made it difficult for people to get equipment they truly need. She said that she never submits a claim unless she’s certain the patient qualifies, saying she believes none of the claims should be denied.


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Medicare’s Wheelchair and Scooter Benefit page:

Amputee Golfers Among the Best in the World

Amputee Golfer Bob McDermott

In 2007, Golf Magazine named Canadian golfer Bob MacDermott the “World’s Most Amazing Golfer.” MacDermott and other equally talented amputee golfers from around the world recently got to show their stuff at the 63rd Annual National Amputee & Senior Golf Championship in Rio Verde, Arizona, sponsored by the National Amputee Golf Association (NAGA).

MacDermott settles on his prosthetic left leg, grips his club with his right hand that misses a thumb and takes a shot onto the green with the assistance of his prosthetic left arm before addressing the reporter. A day in August 1987 started out relatively well. MacDermott decided to harvest wheat with his father instead of going to a local golf tournament. He overestimated the distance between his tractor and a power pole and took it out with the cultivator. He then made a couple of bad moves that resulted in all 14,500 volts of electricity entering his hand, traveling down and out of his body through his feet.

During the 80 mph ambulance ride to the hospital, a tire blew out and sent the ambulance hurtling into a field, tossing MacDermott out the back doors and into his new life as an amputee. Because of the trauma and critical loss of time before treatment, his injuries were going septic, and he faced an ultimatum: his life or his limbs. Golf became his therapy to deal with the aftermath.

“It was either my limbs or my life. But I never lost a year of golf,” says MacDermott. “Golf became an addiction. It’s been therapy. It helps you keep your sanity when you’re trying to overcome some things. These are just opportunities to test yourself.”

One of MacDermont’s competitors, Dr. Lucian Newman, III, was a seven-time tournament champion in his hometown of Alabama until his left arm was blown off at the elbow during a hunting accident. A general surgeon, Newman returned to check on his patients 10 days after his accident and still handles a full case load. Determined not to let anything stop him from doing what he loved, Newman returned to the golf course with a prosthetic device and competed against the “normies.” He finished second.

Amputee Golfer Lucian Newman

“Golf’s harder than surgery,” reveals Newman. A crushing drive down the center of the fairway proves that he successfully masters both.

Unlike MacDermott and Newman, Mike Carver is a lifelong amputee. The Holcomb, Mississippi resident was born with a short stump where his right arm should be, he has a prosthetic instead of a right leg, and a left hand with only a thumb and two fingers that were surgically separated.

Amputee Golfer Mike Carver

“You never miss things you never had,” Carver says. “But growing up, I was never treated any differently.”

Carver is right-handed, yet he executes powerful tee shots with his left hand in a tennis backhand fashion. He proudly boasts that his strength is in his short game.

The tournament also included some working golf professionals like Kimberly Moore. She may have been born without a right foot, but that did not stop her from becoming part of the LPGA Futures Tour, as well as leaving all the ladies in the National Amputee & Seniors Golf Championship in her dust for eight years in a row.

Amputee Golfer Kimberly Moore

“Everybody treated me the same,” explains Moore of her competitive childhood. “I usually was the only one out there like that (disabled), but it was pretty normal to me.”

Another contender at the tournament, Kevin Valentine was helping a woman with a flat tire when he was hit by a car almost fourteen years ago. He later awakened in a hospital and overhead his wife talking to the doctor about someone who was about to lose a leg. He felt sorry for the guy, not realizing he was the guy they were talking about. Valentine’s golf game is as good as it was when he played in college, but his perspective will never be the same. He says he’s more compassionate in general, but less compassionate toward people who make a big deal of out things that aren’t important.

The golfers all come to the course to play and play hard. Players who lost an arm are not about to go easy on players who lost a leg. No matter how they became amputees, the golfers all share one mantra: humor is not a crutch; it’s a way of life around the golf course and “19th hole.”

For anyone interested in golfing from a wheelchair, our story about the ‘Paragolfer’ Wheelchair Designed for Golf might be of interest.


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Possibility of a Daily Pill Brings Hope for a Cure for Multiple Sclerosis

Researchers Working Towards a Daily Pill to Treat MS

A group of Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta have recently made a breakthrough that could mean a new treatment option for people with multiple sclerosis (MS): a daily pill that could stop or may even reverse symptoms of the disease. Researcher Dr. Chris Power stated in a recent newsletter, “This frankly is an exciting breakthrough and has huge potential. The role of neurosteroids in the brain has been known for some time but no one thought–until now–that they might play a role in MS.”

The initial idea for the direction of this new study evolved as a result of researchers discovering that people with MS tend to have lower levels of a type of brain chemical called neurosteroids, which are instrumental in maintaining normal brain cell function. The researchers tested brains of 16 MS patients in Alberta–which has the highest level of MS in the world–and other patients without MS and found that the MS patients had significantly lower levels of the neurosteroid allopregnanolone than patients with other diseases.

Allopregnanolone is a derivative of cholesterol and is linked to vitamin D. The vitamin D link is particularly interesting to researchers because of the link between higher MS rates in northern areas of the world and lower vitamin D levels due to low sunlight exposure. The researchers tested the effects of allopregnanolone on mice with a multiple-sclerosis-like disease, and they found that the neurosteroid significantly reduced inflammation in the brain and repaired nerve fibers. The mice experienced increased mobility for 30 days after beginning the treatment. “Overall we found that the mice showed a 50 percent reduction in MS disease severity in the brain,” said Dr. Power.

Canadian Researchers Testing on MS Mice

The current MS drugs on the market merely slow down progression of the disease; they don’t stop the progression. A daily dose of allopregnanolone and possibly other neurosteroids may stop progression of MS and possibly reverse some its symptoms. “We were surprised by our initial discovery that this neurosteroid was present in reduced levels in MS patients and then amazed to discover that when we used it as treatment it had such significant effects,” Dr. Power stated.

The university obtained funding from the Canadian government and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Dr. Power hopes that his research will get funding for first-stage human trials of allopregnanolone within the next couple of years. “Initially we will be looking that it is safe to take,” he said. “But to some extent that work has been done because of the trials in other disease areas. Our research on mice showed no toxicity. If we overcome that hurdle–which we should–then we would be onto stage two trials to establish that it works as a treatment.”

The original mice studies used injected neurosteroids, but the researchers are hopeful to find a delivery method that is less invasive, like a pill. Dr. Potter said it will be some time before allopregnanolone will be approved as as a treatment for MS. “We are talking about it being at least six or seven years away as a treatment, but I am optimistic about our chances even though there are a number of hurdles to overcome,” he said.


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New Technology FLAMES May Help Spinal Cord Injured Using Microstimulation

neural image

Two professors working in the developing field of neuroprosthetics have developed a light-activated device that may one day enable people with spinal cord injuries to regain some use of their nervous system. The technology is called FLAMES, an acronym for Floating Light Activated Micro Electric Stimulators, and it uses a wireless device to electrically stimulate the central nervous system. With it, they hope to use a tiny beam of light to stimulate micro-electrodes placed below a spinal cord injury.

Professor Mehut Sahin of NJIT

The device has been developed by Professors Mesut Sahin of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Selim Unlu of Boston University under a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Like other neuroprostheses, such as cochlar implants, FLAMES uses microstimulators implanted in the body to activate the nervous system; unlike other neuroprostheses, the new technology allows the use of tiny floating electrodes and a laser in place of wires.

Explains Sahin, “A key benefit is that since our device is wireless, the connections can’t deteriorate over time plus, the implant causes minimal reaction in the tissue which is a common problem with similar wired devices.”  And because the electrodes are stimulated by a laser in the near-infrared range, there is no harm to human tissue.

Professor Unlu of Boston University

The project is in its third year of development with the professors currently optimizing the size and placement of the device in preparation for clinical trials. Says Unlu, “We hope that once FLAMES advances to the clinical stage, patients paralyzed by spinal injury will be able to regain vital functions.


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NASA Space Center Levels Playing Field for Employees with Disabilities

WH Staff Visits GSFC

Business owners who still think accessibility is not that important should take a hint from NASA. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s inclusive culture impressed Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, during a tour of the space center’s satellite testing facility. He shared his experience on the WhiteHouse.gov blog.

According to Dale, Goddard fosters a culture that emphasizes recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining employees with disabilities. Goddard’s human resources managers attended a first ever disability job fair held by the Office of Personnel Management in 2009. The center has hired many qualified engineering, science, math, and technology candidates thanks to its relationship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Internship Program. The space flight center also works with the Workforce Recruitment Program and vocational rehabilitation centers to obtain qualified staff. These hiring and recruiting practices enables Goddard to achieve internal veteran and disability hiring goals.

WH Staff Visits GSFC

Goddard also sets a standard for accessibility that any businesses should strive for: ensuring new-hire training for all, regardless of physical ability, through a feedback system that helps minimize unintentional barriers. Staff and management also participate in learning and development sessions that give employees an opportunity to address accessibility and insensitivity issues, as well address disability-related issues.

Lack of reasonable accommodations is a common barrier to employment for job applicants with disabilities. Goddard ensures a level playing field for all employees by maintaining a centralized accommodation fund that allows managers to make accommodations without having to worry about their operating budgets.

Dale was impressed with how well the staff diversity matched the diverse skill sets necessary to stay on the cutting edge of space and earth sciences. He, along with a group of other individuals, got to meet some of the staff responsible for designing “some of the coolest hi-tech stuff.”

WH Staff Visits GSFC

The group was welcomed by a blind EEO specialist. They were given a demonstration of a space vacuum simulation that was presented by a thermal engineer with a physical impairment. Deaf engineers showed group mockups and test equipment designed for the satellite’s command and data center. For Dale, it was proof positive that persons with disabilities are capable of doing anything they set their minds to, if given the opportunity.


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Wheelchair Marathon Winner Kurt Fearnley Makes Historic Jungle Hike

Athlete Kurt Fearnley on the Kokoda Trail

Paralympic games medalist and marathon winner Kurt Fearnley trekked sixty miles of the rugged terrain of Papua New Guinea on a mission to raise awareness of depression and men’s health issues. The site, the notorious Kokoda Trail, comprises 60 miles of mountains and dense jungle. Fearnley and a team hiked nine hours a day over 11 days in November, 2009, Fearnley literally crawling on his hands through rock and mud every step of the way. Wayne Weatherall, who lead Fearnley’s hike said of him, “To use the word superhuman or superhero is not going too far from the truth.”

Kurt Fearnley Leading Team on Kokoda Trail

Amazingly, Fearnley is not the first to crawl the Kokoda Trail. He was inspired by Corporal John Metson, who in 1942 crawled for three weeks after being shot in the ankle. He refused to let his comrades be burdened with carrying a stretcher. Fearnley, however, is trying to make a different point. “I want to be as little amount of burden on my friends and family as I can, but I know there’ll be parts of Kokoda when I’m going to have to ask for help.” Fearnley credits his family for his success. Although he was born missing the lower part of his spine, he was treated no differently from his brothers, playing sports, fishing and hiking together. “They’re the blokes who made me the way I am, that made sure I wasn’t a passenger, I was a participant.”

Kurt Fearnley Crawling Through Mud on Kokoda Trail

Although Fearnley is used to winning medals in a wheelchair, for this challenge he had to train in a different way – he had to relearn how to crawl. He spent 18 months developing the stamina the trek would require by climbing stairs and crawling for several hours each day. He also developed special padding for his hands and torso to withstand the grueling hike. The Kokoda Trail offers a number of other challenges – high temperatures, disease-carrying mosquitoes, and torrential rainfall. It is famous for a number of battles fought between Australian forces and the Japanese during WWII. Today the Kokoda Trail is a popular, if difficult, hiking destination. In recent years several hikers have died attempting the trek.

Kurt Fearnley crossing log bridge

Fearnley is a nine-time medalist in the Paralympic Games. On October 9th, 2011 he won the Bank of America Chicago marathon. He will be in New York City on November 6, 2011, hoping to add to the four victories he has collected there.


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Taking Action Against ADA Wheelchair Accessibility Violations

Americans with Disabilities Act

Modesto Hernandez, a wheelchair user due to the effects of polio, is taking a stand against businesses that fail to accommodate the special needs of patrons with disabilities. Hernandez has filed more than 12 accessibility lawsuits against numerous New York shopping centers and locations including the Bronx Zoo, Cross County Shopping Center, the Nanuet Mall, and most recently the Midway Shopping Center in Scarsdale and Tanglewood Shopping Center in Yonkers.

Hernandez’s lawsuit claims the establishments violated New York’s Civil Rights Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and his complaints mirror those of millions of persons with disabilities: curbs or walkways that are not designed for wheelchair use, counters and rails that are too high, and inaccessible parking for people with disabilities on excessively sloped ground, to name a few.

Cross Country Shopping Center in Yonkers, NY

Hernandez is one of millions of people all over the U.S. who are exercising their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and holding businesses accountable for not providing adequate access for persons with disabilities. His lawsuits seek changes or modifications to improve accessibility and unspecified damages plus attorney’s fees. Plaintiffs involved in these types of lawsuits hope to send the message to businesses to bring their establishment up to code and make them accessible for all persons, regardless of their physical ability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, local and state government, transportation, telecommunications, commercial facilities and public accommodations. Accessibility lawsuits have been on the rise in recent years. Oregon, Florida, Hawaii and California are considered “hot bed” states for accessibility lawsuits. California recently proposed Senate Bill 783, legislation that would give Californian businesses some relief from abusive accessibility lawsuits.

Nanuet Mall Sued for Accessibility Issues

There’s a fine line, however, between a person having a legitimate complaint and a person being nit-picky. Defendants in accessibility lawsuits feel plaintiffs and their attorneys are abusing the ADA laws to make a profit. The plaintiffs insist they are acting on behalf of all persons with disabilities and doing their part to make all places accessible for everyone.

Despite increased awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities, too many businesses and other establishments still lack adequate facilities to accommodate such persons. Furthermore, many of these establishments are reluctant to incur the expense to make the necessary changes. In many cases, change only comes when a business is sued.

Hernandez’s attorney insists that his client is not just going around looking for businesses to pick on. Hernandez’s job as a wheelchair repairman takes him all over the country making house calls and deliveries. If he notices a problem with accessibility at any particular place he visits, he calls his attorney.

One defendant has gotten the message and is taking corrective action. The Bronx Zoo agreed to 84 changes at their entrances, restrooms, signage, parking lots, and animal exhibits. The changes include installing accessible tables in the Terrace Cafe, lowering a handrail in the reptiles exhibit, and redesigning paths at the Tiger Mountain exhibit to reduce changes in level.

Bronx Zoo in NY

Will more architects and designers continue making accessibility a primary consideration when designing buildings and structures, so there will be less accessibility lawsuits in the future? What is your opinion of Hernandez and other plaintiffs like him bringing suit against frequented establishments? Is this the right way to go about bringing about accessibility to all–by having lawyers direct businesses to comply–or should these changes be left to established officials, like public health authorities? Weigh in here and let us know!


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‘Harry Potter’ Author J.K. Rowling’s $15M MS Center Donation

J.K. Rowling $15 Million MS Center Donation

Best-selling author J.K. Rowling recently donated 10 million pounds ($15.5 million) to Scotland’s University of Edinburgh to go toward a new clinic for multiple sclerosis (MS) research and treatment. The donation is the largest the university has ever received. The clinic, to be named after the author’s mother, will be based at the university.

In addition to MS research, the center will also research treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s. About 100,000 people live with MS in Britain, with Scotland having one of the world’s highest MS rates in the world. The donation was Rowling’s way of giving back to her hometown and the place where she started writing stories about an orphaned wizard–stories that would become the best-selling Harry Potter novels and spawn a multi-million dollar hit movie franchise.

J.K. Rowling $15 Million MS Center Donation

The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic–named in honor of the author’s mother–will be added to the new Centre for Multiple Sclerosis Research at the University of Edinburgh. Rowling said that there was nothing more important than helping the university attract the best medical experts in the field of neuro-regeneration research. Rowling hopes the clinic will one day be a global center for excellence in the field of regenerative neurology and that it develops a cure for MS and other neurological diseases.

J.K. Rowling Donates $15 Million for MS Center in Honor of Her Mother

Turning 45 inspired Rowling to make this generous donation, because it is the same age that her mother died in 1990 from MS-related complications, before Rowling found fame with her Harry Potter novels. Her mother’s death influenced a central theme of the story–children dealing with loss. Rowling said the donation was given as a token of gratitude for all that her mother gave her during a life that was too short, and because she would have preferred her name to be on a clinic, whose purpose is to find a cure for debilitating neurological diseases, rather than on a plaque, statue, or flower garden.

The Harry Potter novels have sold over 400 million copies and made Rowling a billionaire. Forbes Magazine recently ranked the author as one of the richest woman in Britain. Recently, the author was honored with the Benefactor Award presented by Princess Anne at the University of Edinburgh for her generous donation.

J.K. Rowling Receives Benefactor Award

For more on the author’s inspiration, here is an interview clip of J.K. Rowling speaking about the loss of her mother to multiple sclerosis:


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Woman with MS Makes Mt Everest Trek with a Dream Team

Pippa Blake Rise Above Barriers Everest Expedition

Multiple sclerosis and a wheelchair could not deprive 61-year-old Pippa Blake of Victoria, Canada of fulfilling her lifelong dream of hiking Mount Everest, and she did so with the assistance of a group of people whose mission it is to help people with disabilities rise above challenges. She recently shared her Mount Everest experience at an event in Nanaimo, British Columbia and hosted by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada’s Central Island Chapter.

Pippa Blake Rise Above Barriers Everest Expedition

Blake’s dreams of going to Mount Everest had been on the back-burner for some time before she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 20 years ago. She thought her sons had lost their minds when they told her they found people who could help her realize her dreams in a wheelchair that looks like a cross between a wheelbarrow and rickshaw.

Pippa Blake Rise Above Barriers Everest Expedition

The TrailRider, as that curious wheelchair hybrid is known, is the brainchild of Sam Sullivan and Paul Cermak. Sullivan became a quadriplegic in 1979 after a skiing accident. Determined to once again do the things he loved to do before his accident, he founded the Tetra Society of North America. Together with a team of technicians and engineers, Sullivan and Cermak designed what went on to become the first TrailRider, which has since been redesigned, rebuilt, and retested many times and has taken hundreds of people with disabilities to places they never believed possible.

Pippa Blake Rise Above Barriers Everest Expedition

The Rise Above Barriers Society are the angels who made made Blake’s dream a reality. They worked with Blake in organizing a hiking expedition to Mount Everest, and in November 2007, a team of individuals helped pull and push Blake in a TrailRider through 12 days of struggles to make it to the base camp of Mount Everest. Despite illnesses and major hurdles along the way, Blake never doubted they would reach their goal, and she credits the positive energy of everyone involved with keeping her going.

“It never entered my head that we wouldn’t make it,” said Blake of the treacherous trek. “I had a wonderful energy of people all around me.”

Pippa Blake Rise Above Barriers Everest Expedition

Members of the “Dream Team”–as Blake referred to them–later expressed getting more satisfaction out of helping Blake fulfill her dream than in the trek itself.

This talk was the first of many, as Blake plans to go on tour and share her story with others in the hopes that it will inspire other people with disabilities. Officials from the Multiple Sclerosis Society, who brought Blake to Nanaimo, said they wanted other people with disabilities to be inspired by Blake’s story.

Pippa Blake Rise Above Barriers Everest Expedition

“This is slightly over the top for a lot of people, but it’s extraordinary what you can do, if you really believe you can do it,” said Blake in video footage of her trek. “I hope this makes people realize you can do more than dream, but you have to believe in yourself and dig deep, and it’s extraordinary what can happen.”

For a first-hand account of Pippa Blake’s dream-come-true journey, she shared her reflections afterwards at https://www.riseabovebarriers.com/dreamteam.html.

A documentary of her experience is also in the works, but here is a rough highlight video from the Rise Above Barriers Everest Expedition celebrating their awesome achievement:


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Original information about the 2007 journey can be found here:

TrailRider information can be found here: