Man Whose Wife Was Paralyzed In A Car Crash Builds The Only Thing That Can Save Her

Car accidents can change dozens of lives in the blink of an eye. The moment of impact has the potential to do some serious damage—or worse—for everyone involved. You don’t need to tell that to Liz Soden.

While her then-fiancé, Brad, was driving her and their kids in the family truck, tragedy had quickly struck. After the crash, Liz was paralyzed from the waist down. For two years, Brad worked on something in his garage that might help her feel whole again…

For Brad Soden and his soon-to-be-wife Liz, life was pretty good. Three months before their wedding, however, life dealt them a devastating blow that would test the strength of that relationship.

Liz Soden / Facebook

Brad was driving his truck with Liz in the front and their kids in the back. All of a sudden, the front tire blew. Before Brad or Liz could process what was happening, the car crashed into an embankment on the side of the road.

Liz Soden / Facebook

Brad and the kids escaped with minor injuries, but Liz fared much worse. At the hospital, Liz learned that she would never walk again. Devastated, she tried to hide her feelings from the family, but Brad could tell she was far from okay.

Liz Soden / Facebook

As a combat veteran, Brad was no stranger to heartache and loss, but to see Liz in pain was too much. He told Today in an interview, “When you get her to cry, I’m motivated. I’ll make it happen.”

Bloomberg / Youtube

An avid hiker and camper, Liz would undoubtedly miss out on some major parts of her life without the use of her legs. Brad recalled her devastating words after she found out she was paralyzed: “Go on without me.”

Brad Soden / Facebook

Brad wanted to build a solution to Liz’s problem right in his own garage, but he had no formal training in engineering. Many he’d spoken with told him that there weren’t any reasonable technologies that could get Liz hiking and camping again.

Brad Soden / Facebook

According to an interview with Bloomberg, it took Brad “two years and a bunch of beer” to build the first prototype model of his ultimate vision: the “Tankchair,” a wheelchair that works on every terrain.

Liz Soden / Facebook

In the same Bloomberg interview, Brad succinctly explained the chair’s most obvious function: “You have kids that got a football game on a muddy field? Cross it. You want to go fishing with your buddies? Go fishing. If it snows?”

Bloomberg / Youtube

As soon as Brad set Liz up in one of these Tankchairs, her life changed. “It made it where I could go hiking and camping,” she told Today. “When we went to the snow, I would sit in the car. Now I can get out, and I can chase my kids around, and I can go with them.”

Bloomberg / Youtube

Liz continued heaping on praise for her husband’s invention. “I’m not a prisoner anymore in the car and in the house.” The best part of it all? Her newfound sense of freedom gave Brad a fantastic idea: Why not spread the magic of Tankchair to other wheelchair-stricken folks who want to explore the outdoors?

TC Mobility

Perhaps thinking of veterans who had been wounded in combat, Brad opened up a shop dedicated to selling Tankchairs, and it was a big hit! They’re not cheap, however: the most affordable Tankchair model starts at $15,000, while the most expensive reaches $53,000.

TC Mobility

All the money Brad and his team of mechanics make goes right back into improving future Tankchair designs. “I’m not rich, but I have a lot of fun,” he told Bloomberg. “Money does not drive me … This is all about the smiles on people’s faces and the families that I’ve helped.”

Bloomberg / Youtube

Beyond his wife, Brad—along with the entire Tankchair team—have been changing lives all over the country. Betty Jean Hamman of Wickenburg, Arizona, is one of the many people who can smile again thanks to Brad’s ingenuity.

Bloomberg / Youtube

Betty Jean had a problem: she loved her horses—and riding them—but then she lost her ability to walk. Complicating matters, her husband had passed away and her kids had moved out. She was alone and, like Liz, she couldn’t participate in her favorite activity.

Bloomberg / Youtube

Betty Jean’s farm wasn’t going to take care of itself, but she couldn’t do much of the work necessary to tend to it. Her solution? She called up Tankchair, and they fit her with a used chair that allowed her to wrangle her horses with the all the dexterity she could possibly need!

Bloomberg / Youtube

Combat veteran Chris Sullivan also benefitted from the Tankchair. Chris served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006; sadly, he returned home paralyzed from the waist down. As a result, his little son had only ever seen him in a wheelchair. Chris was never able to chase him around the yard or play many active games with him.

Bloomberg / Youtube

But now with a Tankchair, he could play with his little buckaroo the way any father might. In a clip from the Bloomberg video, his son went bounding through the mud and grass, and right behind him was Chris, zooming by in his new chair—faster even than he could have on two legs.

Bloomberg / Youtube

“It’s the little things like that that make this whole job worth it,” Brad said, referring to Chris’s story. Brad was so satisfied by his work that he struggled to hold back tears: “When you see happiness… I can’t really describe it… it’s just really cool.”

Bloomberg / Youtube

“Everybody can whine and cry about stuff. Critics are so easy to find—you can’t swing a dead cow without hitting one,” Brad said. But at Tankchair, they take pride in finding solutions to debilitating problems.

Liz Soden / Facebook

Thanks to new technologies, and determined individuals, those who are paralyzed might have a shot at living a normal life again. As time goes on, even more inventions are coming out to do just that…

In 2011, Jeff Marquis crashed his bike on a mountain trail in Montana when he sped off a jump without fully committing. His body flew over the handlebars, and he landed on his head. “The first thing I noticed is that I was having a lot of trouble breathing. Then I realized that my hands weren’t working and I couldn’t get up.”

The accident left Jeff paralyzed from the chest down and unable to walk. An athlete and professional chef, Marquis now needed constant care, and it didn’t sit well with him. He missed his freedom terribly and would do anything to get it back.

CBS News

In another part of the country a few years later, 19-year-old Kelly Thomas from Florida was in a terrible car accident — her truck flipped over four times in a hit-and-run. She reached the hospital in time to save her life, but not without major consequences: her spinal cord was damaged, and she was paralyzed from the waist down.

Before the crash, Kelly raced in rodeos, played soccer, and worked on her family’s farm. She was raised “cowboy tough.” But would that toughness be enough to keep her fighting when she could no longer do any of the things she loved?

Like Jeff, the surgeon told Kelly that the chances of her ever walking again would be maybe one or two percent. “I told him, ‘Okay, I’ll be your one or two percent.” Kelly won’t let you call her disabled, denying that the word “paralysis” is even in her dictionary.

Fortunately for Kelly and Jeff, not to mention the nearly 1.3 million people who are paralyzed because of spinal cord injuries in the US, there is a research team at the University of Louisville working on an experiment to help those suffering from paralysis stand and even walk again.

Biz Journals

Here, Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery and Endowed Research Chair Maxwell Boakye and his team have developed a small machine that electrically stimulates the spinal cord in order to control one’s synapses and thus their muscles.

Using an epidural stimulator over a part of the spinal cord, the Louisville researchers have found that the device enables neurons below their injuries to receive signals the brain used to send. This means, ultimately, the subjects could use their limbs again.

Needless to say, if this revolutionary treatment proved to be successful in the long term, the results would be miraculous and far-reaching. And there was one big question: Could the research they are doing mean an end to paralysis for people like Jeff and Kelly?

Dr. Susan Harkema, one of the heads of the study, thought so! “This research demonstrates that some brain-to-spine connectivity may be restored years after a spinal cord injury without physical assistance when using the epidural stimulator and maintaining focus to take steps,” she said.

SpinalPedia.com

Kelly and Jeff were so adamant about walking again and regaining their independence that their respective doctors recommended they join the research program as subjects, along with two others. However, the experiment would take a little more than just turning on the stimulator…

University of Louisville via Medical Xpress

The program involved quite a bit of physical therapy, which can be exhausting for people who haven’t used certain muscles in years, but Jeff, Kelly, and the others had the willpower to keep going, even if their process meant literally taking baby steps.

University of Louisville via BBC

“It is incredible to be able to be in there and actually see them taking their first steps,” said Dr Claudia Angeli, a co-author of one of the studies (left). “It is an emotional time for the individual because it is something they have been told they are never going to be able to do again.”

Wall Street Journal

“The first day I took steps on my own was an emotional milestone in my recovery that I’ll never forget as one minute I was walking with the trainer’s assistance and, while they stopped, I continued walking on my own,” explained Kelly. “It’s amazing what the human body can accomplish with help from research and technology.”

AP via WDRB

With the experiment still in its early stages, it was expected that not everyone would make a full recovery. While Kelly and Jeff have been able to get around with walkers (and the stimulators), the two other participants could only stand up. Still, with enough time, they may also join the land of the walking.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“This should change our thinking about people with paralysis,” Dr. Harkema said. “It’s phenomenal. This new knowledge is giving us the tools to develop new strategies and tools for recovery in people with chronic spinal injuries.”

Insider Louisville

The process was physically and mentally challenging, but it was all worth it: As of 2018, Jeff Marquis has achieved a level of independence he never would have thought possible in the aftermath of his crash. He’s even returned to mountain biking — this time, using a hand bike.

Meanwhile, Kelly Thomas has used her walker to return to the spot where she nearly died 4 years ago in that horrific car accident. “I tell you what,” she said. “It does feel good to be standing where I thought my life ended.”

Wayne Dash/CNN

After their independence was taken from them — and their lives nearly were — Jeff and Kelly are over the moon at their ability to walk again and rejoin the world, even if it might take a while before they are truly free to roam again. “One foot in front of the other,” Kelly says. “Slowly but surely.”

University of Louisville via The Verge

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