A Royal Marine veteran and Paralympian who contracted Q Fever when on duties in Afghanistan has invented a new type of wheelchair that lets users raise themselves up to eye level.
Philip Eaglesham, from Northern Ireland, served in Afghanistan as part of Taunton-based 40 Commando and caught the illness on his last day of a six month deployment.
The bacterial infection leads to physical debilitation which, in Phil Eaglesham’s case, means he has been so weakened that he cannot lift a coffee cup or play with his children and is confined to a wheelchair.
The physical and emotional devastation wrought by Q Fever led him to consider killing himself two years ago so that he would no longer be a burden to his wife and three sons.
On return from Afghanistan he had customised a Segway by putting a seat on it in order to be at the same height as his wife and friends – but soon found he didn’t have the core strength to hold himself up, and also discovered that it wasn’t legal on roads and footpaths in the UK.
That led him to designing the elevating wheelchair. It is still in the development stage and later this month Corporal Eaglesham will launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise £600,000 needed to build two fully working prototypes.
“In October 2010, Helmand Provence, Afghanistan my life changed forever,” he explains. “Since then I’ve struggled with the why’s and what’s, as to the nature of ‘why me?!’
“As my illness deteriorated I began to find the reason: that I was given an opportunity not only to change my life path but also the lives of possibly millions of disabled people the world over.
“With the support I’ve had, it became vital to find like minded people who had the foresight of giving disabled people the ability to live in an able bodied environment, rather than constantly trying to adapt or structurally change everything.
“Firstly my partnership with Brian Meaden and then with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at The University of Sheffield, it became very clear that this was something we could do – produce a device which is both innovative but also takes mobility into the modern age.
“To involve charities in the process, to enable us to keep the business ethically correct, but allow a future for the device was extremely important. For The Royal Marines Charity to grant me the funds to get over the first hurdle. To now be able to bring a new innovative design, with the users’ function at the heart, but also aesthetically make it appealing to the able-bodied community is extraordinary.
“To take a disabled person back to a social height, to aid social interaction but also increase independence has been key. The whole team have worked endlessly to produce what we now call VICTOR, to enable not only myself but those in varying degrees of circumstances to conquering horizons that we’ve previously avoided at all costs. I’m excited for my future using Victor, but more excited about the possibilities that it will give others.
Brian Meaden’s business help and support came after the father of Dragons’ Den Deborah Meaden met Phil at a charity event.
“From the moment I met Philip and Julie I found their courage in adversity inspirational,” he explains. “I determined to try to help them to achieve their ambition to design a mobility vehicle for all levels of disability. Everyone involved in it’s development have found their enthusiasm contagious.
“After a long career in business this has given me the greatest level of satisfaction in that it brings together an exciting business investment opportunity with the satisfaction of knowing that our end product will change and improve countless lives.”
The all-terrain chair has been designed by the Medical AMRC team at The University of Sheffield and is also designed to mount kerbs and small steps and can turn on the spot. It will reduce the need for costly adaptations to kitchens and bathrooms and will help countless lives.
This year Corporal Eaglesham represented Ireland in the Paralympics Games in Rio in Air Rifle Shooting. It is hoped that the new prototype wheelchair will be ready in time for next year’s Invictus Games for disabled servicemen in Toronto.
Corporal Eaglesham has been supported in his endeavours by The Royal Marines Charity and Help for Heroes. He will be helped by celebrity TV presenter JJ Chalmers in launching his crowdfunding campaign at an event at the Imperial War Museum in London at 12 noon on November the 28th.
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