Monday, April 9, 2012

Utah realtor and war vet gets a 'fast speed chair' from CReATE

by Storee Powell

Larry O'Sullivan spent 30 years as a professional photographer in Australia, shooting everything from weddings to aerial pictures, but was cut short of his Down Under lifestyle after a Vietnam War injury led to an above-the-knee double amputation.
The amputation relieved the war vet of pain he'd had for years due to vein and artery damage from being exposed to war chemicals, however, found himself struggling to make ends meet because of the lack of accessibility in his community.

The 68-year-old decided something needed to change. And that change was meeting his wife, an American massage therapist, Christie, on an online dating service. The two met and knew it was meant to be. The couple married and moved to Utah. In December, Larry and Christie celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary.

"I'd passed my 'use by' date in Australia, but aging and retirement is not synonymous with not having something to do," O'Sullivan said. "America is the land of potential and accessibility - you can be anything you want to be."
Larry O'Sullivan, a realtor for
Rocky Mountain Realty.

And O'Sullivan is doing just that - anything he wants. Now a member of several community organizations, such as the Utah Jesters and Amputees on the move, O'Sullivan shares his message of perseverance and just enjoys clowning around.
"When I was in the geriatric ward in Australia, recovering from my amputation, from which I wasn't really expected to live, I dressed as a clown," O'Sullivan said. "I wanted to remind people that life wasn't over; they could still smile."

He wears a black leather hat with an Australian flag clip and colorfully themed ties just to prove his point. But the greatest feat for him has been the opportunity to have a job.
"I am not good at being housebound, and now I can make my own ends meet here," he said. "I can try to be the least burden possible on Christie."

O'Sullivan now works as a realtor for Rocky Mountain Realty. The former photographer used to take photos of homes for realty companies in Australia, and he's always had an interest in the field. To help clients understand his disability and how it relates to business, he keeps a personal blog for the company, The Internet is making business 'totally accessible' for the realtor.

"When I started, I was Larry B.C. - Larry Before Computers," O'Sullivan said. "But now I can do everything I need to, with the world at my fingertips because of computers."
Another equalizer for O'Sullivan is his wheels.

Upon arriving in Utah, O'Sullivan read about CReATE in the newspaper and knew it was his answer to finding a power chair, or as he calls the assistive technology devices, 'fast speed chairs.' The devices are hard to come by in Australia and the accessibility needed for chair users, he said.

CReATE, Citizens Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment, is a non-profit that serves Utahns with disabilities by providing low-cost mobility equipment. Wheelchairs and scooters are donated from the community, and refurbished to manufacturer standards by CReATE. Utahns can get one for the cost of refurbishment - saving hundreds to thousands of dollars. Trained technicians match people to appropriate chairs.

"Here, I can go cross-country and only carry an emergency kit on my chair. The chair I got from CReATE has given me independence," O'Sullivan said.
When shopping, Christy pulls Larry in his manual wheelchair while she uses a power scooter. But the one barrier O'Sullivan is still working to overcome is the social stigmas associated with amputees and wheelchair users.
"Being accepted socially as an equal is the hard part - people see me and think I'm 'a cute little man' and that 'my life must be over,'" O'Sullivan said.
But that doesn't stop him from being active in the community. O'Sullivan uses his disability as an ability, providing wisdom and humor everywhere he goes to break down social stigmas.
"My father said life is a magnificent adventure, and I want to be here as long as there are adventures to live for," O'Sullivan said.

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