For most people, access to an automobile is an advantage in day-to-day life. For Greg Wickenburg, a C-5 quadriplegic with functioning biceps but not triceps, it is a necessity. A Roosevelt Alumnus injured in a car crash his junior year, Wickenburg quickly became accustomed to dependence on his wheelchair-accessible van for weekly medical appointments. Now, with his current van on its last leg, Wickenburg has turned to the internet for help. After 7 months online, his GoFundMe page has raised around 30% of the $25,000 sum needed to purchase a newer van.
Incidentally, one of Wickenburg’s primary reasons for needing a newer van is also a large contributing factor in his relocation to Chandler, Arizona, where he is currently living. According to Wickenburg’s sister, Kim Vradenburg, “[In] Seattle he couldn’t even go out of the house. It was so cold for him, because when you’re paralyzed… your body, it doesn’t have a thermometer anymore. So you’re either freezing or you’re too hot.” In Arizona, Wickenburg is able to leave the house to sit in the sun and to walk his service dog, Roo. Due to health concerns like pressure sores associated with being quadriplegic, Wickenburg has weekly medical appointments. Ironically, these very appointments designed to secure his safety have the potential to put him in peril, as Wickenburg’s current van lacks the reliable air conditioning necessary to regulate his temperature.
Fortunately, Wickenburg’s family and live-in helper have made his wellbeing a top priority. When he was first injured, Vradenburg dropped out of college and found a job near Harborview Medical Center, the hospital where he initially stayed, and the siblings’ single mother, Joanne Wickenburg, worked hard to support him as well. Greg currently lives with both his mother and sister, while his niece goes to college nearby. In addition to his loving family, Wickenburg treasures Roo, the rescue dog (a papillon) he trained himself. “I put a strap around my wrist with a pencil in it to type and to use the phone and computer and stuff. And if I drop it, Roo will pick it up and put it back on my lap. And if I go to the store, he can actually take a credit card or something out of my shirt pocket and put it on the counter,” Wickenburg details. Roo can also turn the lights off and on, and, in the event that Wickenburg tips too far forward and is unable to right himself, bark for assistance.
To pass the time, Wickenburg watches movies and TV, and reads books on his Kindle. But his greatest preoccupation is with sports. Though he has expanded his repertoire of favorite players and teams to include Arizona’s best, like Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals, Wickenburg’s heart still lies with Seattle teams like the Huskies, the Mariners, and (in particular) the Seahawks. “For all the big games we decorate our house so much outside—all Seahawks—like our whole garage… We look forward to the games every weekend when it’s football season,” says Vradenburg. When asked whether sports helped her brother come to terms with his injury, she answered with an enthusiastic affirmative. As far as other aspects of Seattle, Wickenburg misses the water the most. “The desert’s kind of dry, and we always used to go down to the beach up there for the hydroplane races,” he says.
Because travelling is far too uncomfortable to be worthwhile, Wickenburg hasn’t visited Seattle since he moved to Chandler 12 years ago, but he keeps in touch with his old friends, many of whom he has known since high school. In Chandler, Wickenburg has interacted with locals with similar disabilities, most of whom have similar worries. “Finances—that’s always a huge thing. Are you going to be able to pay somebody or where are you going to live? All that kind of stuff.”
Wickenburg has Medicare, but this program only covers a small fraction of his expenses, and continues to be cut back. “If I had no money at all, they would pay like 700 dollars a month for attendance [personal care such as that provided by live-in helpers]. And that only covers like 4 hours a day,” he explains. Though government aid is continually decreasing, Vradenburg points out that “Anything handicapped seems like it’s quadruple the price,” and the family is “going around in circles constantly when it comes to insurance.”
Despite economic and political obstacles, Wickenburg still has one major advantage on his side: social media. Active on Twitter and Facebook, he has already secured several news articles and has reached out to athletes to help support him. “If anybody can help, or even if they can put the address [of his GoFundMe page] on their Facebook or help share it,” Wickenburg will be pushed just a little further towards his goal of $25,000 for a newer wheelchair-accessible van.
Featured Photo: Wickenburg poses with his dog, Roo. Photo courtesy of Greg Wickenburg