Hanging In There

Dick Peterson creates a new hoisting device with an above-the-waist lifting harness, making transfers smoother for people with various physical disabilities. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/docs3/peterson.html

All of us who are disabled try to "hang in there". In my case, the expression has taken on a double meaning.

I have had multiple sclerosis for over 30 years and, as my condition worsened, I foresaw the day when I would need greater assistance with bathroom transfers.

As an engineer (in a former life!) I envisioned a lifting device which would raise me erect without any encumbrances at or below the waist (the usual patient lifter makes it impossible to manage lower clothing when seated), and would be electrically-operated but powerline-independent (I had an unhappy experience with a power outage midway up a stair elevator!). And above all it had to be economical, as well as easy and speedy in use. A ceiling-mounted, battery-operated hoist with an above-the-waist lifting harness seemed the ideal solution.

Locating a suitable harness was difficult. I inquired of university biomedical-engineering departments, the Veterans Affairs medical equipment people, rehab centers, etc. They all told me the same thing: harnesses for lifting people had to have seats. Then one day I was watching an old movie and there it was: Sidney Poitier being lowered to the deck of a destroyer from a helicopter, with a simple, above-the-waist harness!

Fortunately there is a helicopter-equipped Coast Guard search-and-rescue station here on Cape Cod. The "Coasties" were very helpful. When I visited the station they dangled me from the hanger's overhead crane to demonstrate how their "survivor sling" would work for me... and later came to my home to show me how to use it.

Next I consulted my doctor who assured me this method of lifting would not harm me. He even suggested there should be beneficial side-effects from the periodic pressure-point relief and body-joint extension.

Having solved the lifting-harness problem, I turned my attention to the hoist. Through trial and error I determined the best location for the ceiling-mounted winch, with the battery placed on the floor out of the way.

The survivor sling did the job well but it turned out to be too heavy and bulky and so, using it as a model, I had a lighter-weight version made locally.

The overall cost of my electric transfer system was under $500. The fail-safe feature proved a lifesaver during our eight-day blackout following Hurricane Bob.

Although my quadriplegia requires my caregiver-wife's assistance with bathroom transfers, others have used it without help: paraplegics, etc. ... even a double-amputee who transfers in and out of his Jacuzzi!

Hanging in there is much easier now!