SmartDrive evaluation

We met with therapists and our wheelchair provider to evaluate Namine’s need for new equipment.

The process to get Namine’s newest wheelchair was an arduous one. In the initial request, we had asked for a SmartDrive, an electric motor that attaches to the back of the wheelchair to assist Namine on long days and going up hills. That request was denied, forcing us to repeat the whole process excluding the drive.

Now that Namine has her chair — albeit without everything she’d initially desired — we’ve begun the process to get her the SmartDrive in a request all by itself. The first step in that process is to get an evaluation. To that end, she met with several staff members at Children’s Hospital, including a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and an employee from the company that makes her wheelchairs, NuMotion .

Trying out the equipment

The SmartDrive that Namine got to try out was a little bit different than the one she’d receive, if our request is approved. The model that NuMotion had on hand was a little bit older, which came with a wristband. Namine had to learn how to use it for this trial, even though the motor she would receive would come with a dial that would attach to her wheelchair frame.

Operating the wristband was simple enough. To start the drive, she double-tapped her wrist on her leg or on her wheelchair frame. On startup, the motor would increase in speed until she single-tapped to stay at the current speed. Then, another double-tap would stop the motor completely.

Once Namine was comfortable with using the wristband — it didn’t take long, child of technology that she is — we ventured out of the clinic and into the hospital hallways. We weren’t far from a long ramp, which was perfect. Long inclines were one of the top reasons we were applying for the motor, after all.

On the way out of the clinic, Namine activated the motor at a low speed. She let it do the driving, while she kept her hands on the rims to steer out of the room and around the corners of the narrow hallways.

Out in the hospital hallways, Namine was encouraged to go her normal speed. Wheeling on carpet is always a little more tiring than on a hard surface like tile. Fortunately, the carpet in Children’s Hospital is pretty thin, so it isn’t much of a deterrent.

Once we got to the long ramp, Namine went up once by herself, without activating the motor. She did the same on the way back down, but not before asking me to jog alongside her. Once at the bottom, she was asked to wheel back up — but this time, activating the motor when she felt her arms getting tired. She still wheeled all the way up, but she was able to save some energy by letting the motor assist her.

Namine wheeled and I jogged alongside her back down the ramp again. She went back up, one last time, but did not wheel at all. Instead, she was asked to activate the motor before beginning the incline. It did all the work — save for whatever steering adjustments Namine had to make in order to maintain a straight line.

And now, to wait

After all measurements of strength, speed (with and without the motor), and agility were taken, we parted ways with the hospital staff. Namine’s part in this was done; the medical staff’s was just beginning. The goal, of course, is to submit a letter of medical necessity to insurance. Because Namine is disabled, she has two insurances: mine through my employer, and the state’s. Therefore, the letter will be submitted to both insurances concurrently.

We fully expect my private insurance to deny the request for the SmartDrive. They already did, when it was included in the request for Namine’s wheelchair. They said then that if Namine needed an electric motor, that she should just use a motorized wheelchair. (“Just,” as if it were that simple a matter.) That was not, is not, and will not be in the foreseeable future, a sustainable solution for a plethora of reasons, none of which I will get into here.

But I digress. Suffice it to say, we expect the request to get denied by primary insurance. Despite this, for bureaucratic reasons we cannot submit only to state insurance. When primary denies it, the state will deny it as well. Only when it has been denied by both can it then be resubmitted to the state insurance as an appeal. Our hope is that during the appeal, it will be approved. Familiarity with the process, unfortunately, makes it neither any faster nor more comforting.

On our way back out of the hospital, we had some more ramps to go up. Namine said she wished she was able to take the SmartDrive with us on the way home.

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