By Pauline Stewart
Azzie has been in a wheelchair since he was three. At that tender age of running around freely, he started falling over and the outcome, after many years of operations and various prognoses, was that Azzie had Giant Azonal Neuropathy. This is a very rare, degenerative, motor neurone disease, and Azzie has the dubious distinction of being the only person in New Zealand to have this diagnosis.
He is a strong young man and has been living in Whitianga for a year in a nicely situated downstairs apartment, about 2.5 kilometres from the Whitianga town centre. His daily activities are limited because mobility in his wheelchair relies solely on the strength of his arms. His wheelchair is provided by the Ministry of Health and the obligation of the Ministry is to provide for mobility only around the home. It does not cover mobility to have a life outside the home. If Azzie had been in an accident, he would be an ACC beneficiary, entitled to an electric wheelchair, but that is simply not the case. Azzie is 32, with a sharp mind, resonant voice and a desire to join a club or two and be able to get himself downtown and be independent. Though he is strong and works hard to keep fit, it is exhausting and distressing to push himself the 2.5 kilometre journey to town. It means he stays home a lot and limits his life to what he can do, using his arms to push himself in his wheelchair.
Azzie gets on well with his neighbours and a few weeks ago, one of those neighbours, Jack Wouters, a retired engineer, came to him with an idea. Jack had found out about the limitations of the Ministry of Health’s provision, and felt something needed to be done. He began researching how he might be able to make Azzie’s wheelchair more versatile. First, he explored the products made in Italy from where ACC New Zealand orders their chairs for accident victims, but these were too highly priced to even contemplate. The pair kept researching and finally, they found a place in Australia that would provide the attachment to an existing chair plus replacement parts, for a little over $5,000, including the cost of the battery for such an attachment. After speaking with the company concerned and seeing a demonstration via the internet, plus reading all they could on the models the attachment had been used with, Jack and Azzie believed they had found a very good solution.
Azzie feels that he could be on the verge of a whole new life, being able to get out and visit places in the town and be able to manage the long distances in his wheelchair with ease. This would mean a miraculous change. Not only that, he feels so very encouraged by the fact that someone else has cared enough to help him make this step and to reach out for other opportunities in life.
Jack came to visit The Informer to ask for our help to tell this story and to set up a GIVE A LITTLE page, so that the money could be raised locally for Azzie to purchase this very special attachment. Jack would do the work to get the chair going. “Azzie is a part of our community,” says Jack. “He needs that little extra bit of help to physically be able to be involved in his community.. All these years he has managed by himself, but it has limited his choices and his human contact. It is not just about benefitting Azzie; our town will be better for his being more present and able to participate in community life.”
The amount that needs to be raised on the Give A Little page is $5,400. This is for the attachment with its battery, replacement parts and a larger wheel size for better traction on the distances to be travelled.
The link to the Give A Little page: Title: Wheelchair Power for Azzie
Jack is enthusiastic, “We believe Mercury Bay can do this.” “I have always tried to help people; says Azzie, “I think I can help even more, but now I need to take this step and I am very grateful to my neighbours for their help and encouragement.”
Caption: Jack Wouters and his friend and neighbour, Azwhayn Skye (Azzie)