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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Nonprofit Gives Wheelchairs And Walkers A New Life To Give Patients A Better One

For people battling back from an injury, or trying to live with a chronic condition, medical gear can be key to recovery. If insurance won’t pick up the tab, the cost can be devastating.

A North Texas nonprofit that’s part salvage yard and part repair shop is trying to bridge the gap.

Used medical equipment isn’t something people display at garage sales or bring to consignment shops. Old wheelchairs and empty hospital beds usually gather dust in the garage or the hall closet.

“We called one place and they said, ‘oh gee, I wish you had called earlier. We just threw 25 wheelchairs in the trash,’” says Betty Hersey, Executive Director of DME Exchange.

DME stands for Durable Medical Equipment. The East Dallas nonprofit has a simple mission; to clean and repair medical gear and give it to patients who can’t get insurance to pay for what they need.

The organization has been up and running less than three years and has given out close to 1,800 pieces of equipment.

“Canes, walkers, wheelchairs, hospital beds, tub transfer benches, shower chairs, slings, patient lifts, all those kind of things,” Hersey says.

Clean, Repair, Repeat

On this particular afternoon, volunteers are sanitizing chairs and DME’s one full-time technician is sorting hospital bedframes.

Rigo Rodriguez can fix a lot of the donated equipment. What he can’t fix, he dismantles.

“Maybe the frame is damaged, maybe the frame has a crack or a bend or something like that of a wheelchair, we’ll salvage the parts,” he says. “Castors, wheel locks, upholstery, arm pads, all that stuff we can eventually use down the road.”

Betty Hersey says sometimes, all that is standing in the way of a patient recovering at home is medical equipment.

“They’re in the hospital which they can’t afford, and they are medically ready to go home but the problem is, they don’t have money for the equipment,” she says. “The hospital can’t discharge them until they find that equipment for them.”

 18 Years After A Life Changing Injury

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news
KERA news
Kurt Mayo has received an air mattress and power wheelchair from DME Exchange.

Kurt Mayo knows all about recovering at home.

“Well when I was 26 I had a car wreck, ran off the road and hit a tree and it broke my neck, paralyzed me,” he says. “And I’ve been this way for 18 years, I guess.”

Mayo can’t walk and can’t use his hands. He’s in a lot of pain, so these days, he spends most of his time in bed watching movies at his home in southeast Dallas.

DME Exchange had already given him a power wheelchair and stepped up again when he needed a special mattress with pumped in air.

“It keeps me from having bed sores on my body and they seemed to find me an air mattress too, and I’m really grateful,” Mayo says.

Kurt Mayo in the 90s, before his accident.

Air mattresses cost anywhere from 500 to two thousand dollars if you pay out of pocket, which is much too expensive for Mayo.

“I just want to relax, I just want to take it easy,” he says. “I’m tired of having to fight just to try to be normal.”

Taking the fight out of recovery is what DME Exchange is all about. Sometimes that means giving someone a walker so they can cook their own dinner with a broken leg. Sometimes it means keeping a man comfortable in bed after a life-changing car accident.

How to help

If you have questions about whether you qualify for equipment through DME Exchange, or want to volunteer or donate items, call 214-997-3639. 

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.