A Life-Changing Injury—and a New Calling

UPDATED 04/27/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/27/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

David Heim, 47
Marlborough, Mass.

After a night out drinking, David Heim didn't think twice about getting in his car on Sept. 18, 1995. He paid a devastating price: Crashing into a tree, he suffered a spinal cord injury that, doctors said, meant paralysis from the neck down. "I felt like dying," he says. "And I did it to myself."

Defying the odds, he regained partial movement in his upper body, hands and arms. A power wheelchair helped him get around and go out with pals. Though insurance paid for his chair, David realized many people could never begin to afford a good power chair, which starts at $8,000. So in 2000 the former machine-shop manager founded the Wheelchair Recycler (www.wheelchairrecycler.org).

Today, David and son Joseph, 20, have repaired or rebuilt 700 wheelchairs that they've given away or sold for a few hundred dollars to low-income and underinsured users. In 2004, Christopher Reeve's widow, Dana, gave David one of the late actor's power chairs; with her blessing, he used the parts to rebuild six others. Peter Wilderotter, head of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, says "David is a modern-day Superman." No one agrees more than Hayley Sweeney, 15, a Vermont farm girl with spina bifida, whose Heim-built power chairs with headlights allow her to visit her grandmother at night. "David," she says, "changed my life."

Know a hero? Send suggestions to heroesamongus@peoplemag.com

Your Reaction

Follow Us

On Newsstands Now

Lupita Nyong'o: Most Beautiful!
  • Lupita Nyong'o: Most Beautiful!
  • Chelsea Clinton is Pregnant!
  • Exclusive Royal Tour Diary

Pick up your copy on newsstands

Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine

Advertisement

From Our Partners

Watch It

Editors' Picks

From Our Partners



Sign up for our daily newsletter and other special offers.
    Choose your newsletters
Thank you for signing up! Your request may take up to one week to be processed.
    see all newsletters