Senior Kathryn Kerckhoff sports her new ride


Emily Lofgren

Standing up in her new chair, Kathryn collaborates with senior Junior Lopez during cooking mentor class, using her “talker.” Her new chair has made it easier for her to have conversations with her peers. “I’m learning to drive it by myself,” Kerckhoff said.

A brand new Permobil F5 VS powerchair has been a life changer for senior Kathryn Kerckhoff. Kathryn, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, received the new wheelchair in July that allows her to stand up.

“Due to amazing engineers and a lot of research from the company Permobil, all at the ease of buttons, the chair can stand Kathryn, lay her flat or at an angle, go into high sit so she is eye level with peers, recline, go to a zero gravity position, as well as extend her legs, move her back rest or change her angle. It is amazing,” Kathryn’s mom, Julie Kerckhoff said.

Kathryn’s other wheelchair only allowed her to sit and recline, meaning she could only stand at designated times with a needed stander.

“Now, everyday, Kathryn can stand as many times as she wants,” J. Kerckhoff said. “Before, we had to always have another piece of equipment, called a stander, that took 10 minutes and a lot of work from help and patience from Kathryn to transfer into and out of. The other piece took two or three people at school and a highly trained person at home.”

Now that it is possible for Kathryn to stand in her chair, it has become easier for special education teacher Peggy Tyree to assist her on a daily basis.

“To not have to lift her as much has been a huge deal. No person can be in a chair for eight hours of the day in a sit position, so I used to have to change her position about four times a day, lifting her from her chair into a stander,” Tyree said.

Kathryn used to have knee pain, but since receiving the new chair, her pain has lessened. Her new ride has also made it easier for Kathryn to interact with classmates.

“It puts me on the same level as my peers because it stands and sits up tall,” Kathryn said.

Variety Club St. Louis donated the money to pay for the chair, which cost over $40,000.

“I cried and cried,” J. Kerckhoff said. “Kathryn was given the chair because Variety Club’s grace of seeing Kathryn’s high medical need, and the huge difference it would make in Kathryn’s life.”

Variety Club St. Louis is an organization that seeks to help local children with disabilities reach their full potential by providing services every time they need assistance.

“Variety has been a blessing to Kathryn throughout her life. They helped us pay what our insurance would not pay for past wheelchairs, they bought Kathryn a disabled bike that she is able to ride a mile to a mile and a third during her week,” J. Kerckhoff said. “When the weather is good, she rides two or three times a week.”

The new chair will continue to benefit Kathryn in the future as she transitions from high school to a work program.

“I am so excited for her because it makes her so much more independent, and I knew that she needed something like that going forward,” Tyree said.