We were advised to be proactive and early with a Power Wheel Chair (PWC). I'm so glad that we did. My wife, Darcey, wanted to continue working long after she was no longer able to walk. We owned our own business and she was determined to continue being a productive part of that. At the time, I had a regular van... a 2003 Honda Odyssey. I had to "Bear Hug Transfer" her from the PWC to the front passenger seat of the van. It was challenging, but I was able to do that.
I would then take the PWC around to the back of the van. I'd open the back, pull out ramps that I had and set them into position. I'd then lean the back of the PWC back and used the rear controls to drive the PWC into the back of the van. Fortunately, it fit. I'd then slide the not-so-light ramps back into the car. We'd then head home where I'd do the reverse. As time went on, this process began to kick my butt. It was time for something else.
So I went to a "mobility" dealer and looked at BraunAbility conversions. They could order new and convert a number of different van models. Having had a previous Plymouth Voyager and the Odyssey, I was certain that my choice was going to be either another Odyssey or Toyota's van offering.
So off I went to the local Toyota dealer and took the Toyota Sienna for a test drive. It was okay... but I really liked my old Honda. So off I went to the Honda dealer and test drove the latest Odyssey (2014 Model). I immediately knew... it was going to have to be the Honda Odyssey.
I then went back to the mobility dealer and had him price out a new 2014 Honda Odyssey with the BraunAbility side door ramp. The cost was going to be just over $75,000 when all was said and done. Okay... I guess it was just going to be something that I was going to have to swallow. I'd always saved and paid cash for our vehicles... but I would have to borrow a bit to make this one work.
It was now the weekend. I thought about the Odyssey and became concerned. What if... after ordering and getting the van... Darcey's PWC (with her in it) would not fit or go up the ramp. Some how, some way, I needed to find another Odyssey with the same BraunAbility ramp that would let me take Darcey in and out of it while in her PWC.
And so I jumped onto the internet and began to search. I wasn't finding anything. Nothing. Nada. But I kept coming back and trying different search parameters. Again to no avail. Sunday came and I just wouldn't let it be... and I began to search anew. And there it was - a 2013 Honda Odyssey with the correct conversion for sale at a van dealership that was 45 minutes away from us. It had just gone online minutes earlier. I emailed the dealership and asked if I could see it on Monday. To my surprise, they responded with a resounding "Yes!".
On Monday morning, we excitedly headed to the dealership. Arriving, I parked and began the tedious process of getting the PWC out of the back of our current van (using removable ramps), getting Darcey out of the car and into her chair and then pushing everything back into my van. I was so beyond liking my resourceful means of transferring her PWC!
I introduced myself and Darcey and was handed a set of keys and pointed to a beautiful new looking 2013 Honda Odyssey. It was the exact color that I was going to order for the new van from the mobility dealer. I pushed a button, the right side sliding door opened and exposed a folded ramp. In seconds that ramp reached out the side opening and fully extended. The moment of truth was upon us.
As I was only concerned with determining whether I could actually get her in with her large and tall PWC, I was not concerned about removing the front passenger seat. I decided to drive Darcey in backwards using the PWC controls. The excitement we had from the knowledge that this could work had us grinning from ear to ear. But when I sat in the driver's seat and turned on the car, I was treated to another surprise.
This used 2013 Honda Odyssey did not have all the camera and lane change warning stuff that the newer 2014 had. But it was spotless, looked like it had never been used and had a double battery system (a Veterans Administration requirement for vans they pay for). And after turning it on, I noticed it had a half tank of gas and had 400 miles on it. Heck... this thing was only on its 2nd tank of gas!
Of course it was going to be nearly as expensive as ordering a new one. But I had to ask. As they'd not yet washed the outside, they had not put up any pricing. So back into the dealership we went. I'm never comfortable in such places as you know each side has to fight for its position on pricing. After I asked, he pulled out the paperwork, looked it over, and punched some numbers into a handheld calculator. "Mr. Bird... it looks like I can let this go for $49,000 even."
Darcey and I looked at each other with shocked faces! We'd made the decision to order a new van if she could fit into this same model van (and she did!). Now, we had the opportunity to take ownership of a very nearly new van for over $25,000 less. You would not believe how quick we were to put a $1,000 deposit down... and how excited we were to go back at the end of the week to pay off the balance and take it home with us.
Having that van was the start of our beginning to live again. One month later, the doctors at Johns Hopkins would change Darcey's diagnosis from a recoverable CIDP (which had caused us to put life on hold waiting to get better) to a terminal diagnosis of ALS. We immediately took life off hold and began to do things again.
The van allowed us to travel comfortably for up to 5 or 6 hours. That time was the amount of battery that her Trilogy would work before needing to be recharged. And it was at about the time limit of her needing to use the toilet. But we could travel quite some distance in that amount of time. AND WE DID!!!
We removed the front passenger seat and I had an EZ LOCK system installed... the locking bracket to the floor of the car and the retainer bolt to the bottom of her wheelchair. I would back Darcey up the ramp and into the car... and would still have enough room to turn her and guide the PWC into the EZ LOCK device (which would clamp her chair into a "locked and not gonna move" position). We both appreciated the fact that we were seated side-by-side of each other. We could see the same things and talk with each other as we'd done pre-ALS. It definitely worked for us.
On trips, we'd make sure we had "handicap accessible" rooms. We called ahead to get that location's definition of "handicap accessible" as it really could vary (a lesson we learned early on). I had purchased a folding hoyer lift that I would bungy to the driver side sliding door. Because it would fold up, it became quite compact and was easy to take with us. I'd also pack up a commode as this could be used in any situation versus a hotel/motel room's toilet that was really accessible.
That combination meant that nothing much could hold us back from traveling. We met and shook hands with Joe Bonamassa (on multiple occasions), met and spent time with Sandi Thom and got hugs and kisses from Beth Hart. None of this could have happened without the van.
I now need to apologize. I'm not sure how this got so long as I was planning only a quick reply. Today is 8 weeks since Darcey's passing. As I began to relive those earlier moments, my fingers took on a life of their own as they caressed the telling of the story.
Steve gives great advice. Our van has no middle seats and has a lowered floor. Both driver and passenger seats are raised to compensate for the lowered floor. They are also both removable. I have to be careful of curbs (like the kind in fast food drive thru's... which you don't see as you try to get past the guy parked ahead waiting for his order to be delivered)... or one could cause some damage. Personally, I love this van... as I loved the one I had before it. I will certainly miss it when I decide to put it up for sale.
I hope that you are able to find what you need among the many options available. The freedom to get out and keep the closing walls at bay is a godsend. Whether it is a drive around the block... a trip through the neighborhood or to the doctor's office... or a 300 mile trip to just get away... you'll likely be as glad as we were for the freedom that such a vehicle can offer.
My very best...