Chris Sauerbaum has a physical disability resulting from chronic inflammatory polyneuropathy, a form of muscular dystrophy where the sufferer's immune system attacks their nerves. Sauerbaum lost both of his legs and is bound to a wheelchair. After 11 years of trying, he finally has a vehicle that he can drive.
"You might as well be driving a Lamborghini," Sauerbaum told the York Dispatch as the driver side door extended to a lift to accommodate Sauerbaum's wheelchair. "Everyone comes up and talks to you. You come out looking like a Transformer."
It wasn't easy getting transportation that fit his needs. First he bought a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which wasn't large enough to handle the equipment needed to convert the car for a legless driver. In 2013, Sauerbaum and his wife Heather Sloat appealed to local businesses and friends for donations. They raised $10,000 and were able to put a downpayment on a GMC Sierra.
The truck then underwent $91,000 worth of upgrades. It was completely outfitted for Sauerbaum, with a large lift to bring his wheel chair up to the driver's seat and joysticks doing the work of peddles and the steering wheel. New York's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation paid for the conversion.
"Think of it as a big remote controlled car. An 8,000 pound R/C car," Sauerbaum told the Dispatch. After a week and a half of learning the controls, Sauerbaum was able to drive with confidence again. He will no long need to rely on his wife to get him two and from work, an 80-mile trip each day. Sauerbaum and Sloat hope to start a nonprofit called Drive for Independence that will assist other wheelchair-bound people with the costs of getting a converted vehicle that suits their needs.
"It's just one piece of the puzzle to get people to work," Sloat told the Dispatch.