SCHENECTADY — As Mark Boucher sat in his motorized wheelchair at a golf tournament in January, a man approached him and asked “do you play?”
“I thought he was being a smartass, but I looked, and he had a titanium leg,” said Boucher, who lives in Ballston Lake.
A short time later, the man set Boucher up in a Paramobile, a motorized wheelchair that shifts and bends to allow its user to stand upright.
“It was the first time I’d seen my wife eye-to-eye in five years,” Boucher said. “It was a life-changing event.”
Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital hosted a Paramobile demonstration Wednesday morning at Stadium Golf Club in Schenectady. Sunnyview staff, along with Anthony Netto, who co-created the technology, showed patients and bystanders how the machine worked and explained how it can provide physical, emotional and mental benefits.
Netto was shot while serving in Iraq in 1991. Three years later, he was injured in a car accident. He’s used a wheelchair ever since.
He was teaching golf and skeet-shooting classes about a decade ago when he needed a machine that would allow him to stand upright. After several instances of trial and error, he and partner Otto Brock created the Paramobile in 2010.
Netto demonstrated the machine at the driving range Wednesday. Strapped in at the waste and legs, he stood upright and gripped a driver. He explained to the crowd how he has to alter his breathing when he swings the club, and how his swing differs from those who can contort their hips to adjust to the ball.
He then lined up the club face, reared back his arms and struck the ball, sending it more than 100 yards.
Jennifer Battle, the lead recreation therapist at Sunnyview, said the hospital purchased its first Paramobile a short time ago. Previously, the only other machine available in the state was at a Veterans Affairs facility on Long Island, she said.
While details about how the machine will be used locally were still being discussed, Battle pointed out that getting patients into a standing position can help improve circulation, digestion and bone density.
“It’s not only physically important, but emotionally and socially, it puts them on another level, and they can enjoy activities they enjoyed before,” Battle said.
A short distance away, Phil Kingsley, of Cambridge, set himself up in a Paramobile and wheeled up to a tee. One of his grandsons placed a ball at a height to his liking, and Kingsley whacked it about 100 yards down the range.
Kingsley, who took about five minutes to switch from his wheelchair to the Paramobile, said he gets out to swing a golf club pretty regularly. The new machine takes some getting used to, he said, but he enjoyed using it and got good results.
Seeing others have success with the technology gives Netto energy and an emotional lift, he said.
“Being paralyzed is not easy,” he said, adding that it can cause moments of doubt and frustration. “But it’s about the ability, not the disability.”
Boucher, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 30 years ago, will use the Paramobile in October, when he takes part in a golf tournament in Charleston, South Carolina. It used to be that he couldn’t even watch golf because it would remind him of how much he loved to play the game, he said.
On Wednesday, he recalled how there’s typically a shot in each round that gets him back on track. With the help of the Paramobile, he’s back on track to playing, he said.
“I got that one shot,” Boucher said.