24 July 2011

LIFE: My Neighbor Eddie

SARONNO, Italy - My neighbor Eddie, is a world traveler. He has driven to Russia, to India and even all the way to China. On his first trip to the U.S.A. he drove coast to coast, stopping off along the way to visit the Grand Canyon and lose a little money in Las Vegas. 
Off Limits -  Milan's Galleria
He has visited the fjords in Norway, had lunch near the statue of the little Mermaid in Copenhagen and enjoyed a leisurely dinner in Helsinki. Just last month he was in Spain and Gibraltar, and now he’s making plans to visit Australia right after the Christmas holidays. 

But there is one thing Eddie has never seen: the little streets and alleyways that make up the heart of so many cities. He’s never had the luxury of walking along a sandy beach in Southern California or exploring Germany’s Black Forest, or even seeing the side streets of Milan. Eddie is a paraplegic.   

He contracted polio when he was a kid back in the 1950’s, literally weeks before the Salk vaccine was approved. It left him without the use of his legs. But he gets around.
Out of the Car and Into the Segway
Eddie has fiercely resisted using a wheelchair, for him it would be an admission of defeat, so if he’s not in the car, he’s on crutches. But navigating on crutches presents problems. For one, he can’t carry anything, it’s difficult to push a grocery cart in the store, he can’t go up or down stairs without risking life and limb, and because of the pulmonary damage he has suffered, he can’t walk more than a few feet.  

So it’s no wonder he was anxious to tell me about his recent trip to Savona. (see http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.com/2010/08/on-road-savory-savona.html for more on Savona). But Eddie didn't drive all the way down there for the sun or the sea, or the food either, he was there to see a revolutionary product produced by Genny Mobility, a wheelchair Segway. 
Paolo Badano - The Man With the Liberating Idea
“What an experience,” he said. “Of all the countries I have visited I’ve never seen the center of the cities, I could never wander the streets and do what I did in Savona last week. Using the Segway we covered about 5 kilometers, (3 miles) going all around the city, up and down streets and through the squares, and it was exhilarating. I had total mobility. If I leaned forward, I went forward, if I leaned back, I went backwards, I could even go around in circles if I wanted to.”
The Regular Segways That Inspired Paolo Badano
The wheelchair Segway Eddie is so enthusiastic about was engineered by a young Italian from Savona, Paolo Badano. Paolo was in an accident back in 1995 and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Frustrated with his situation, he was always looking for a way to improve his mobility: but all his ideas were all based on the traditional wheelchair model, and none of them were particularly liberating.

 A Whole New World of Experiences
Then, a few years ago the Segway was introduced in Italy and Paolo started thinking. If the self-balancing Segway can transport a person standing on it, why wouldn’t it work if the person was sitting down? What he found was that it does. (See Paolo and his dog on the Segway at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KDVL9NfzgE

It was the Segway that Paolo designed that Eddie drove to Savona to see, and then fell in love with.  So now Eddie is plotting and scheming, trying to figure out how he can afford to buy a GennyMobility Segway. I hope he can. For such a free spirit, who through no fault of his own has spent most of his life without legs, it would a most wonderful, and liberating gift.

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