Disabled woman bed-ridden until wheelchair returned


CHICAGO — After a family vacation, Shannon O’Brien’s flight arrived at O’Hare International Airport, but her customized wheelchair was not on board and for days, she was unable to drive her vehicle, go to work or leave her bed.

After multiple delays, O’Brien finally got her customized wheelchair back Monday around 9 p.m. — and to O’Brien’s relief — the wheelchair is still fully functional and suffered minimal damage on its long and winding journey.

O’Brien is completely dependent on the once-missing wheelchair due to a genetic disease called spinal muscular atrophy, which causes O’Brien to have minimal movement in her arms and legs.

The wheelchair allows O’Brien to be independent and on her own, its level of customization being so in-depth that it fits her vehicle, allowing her to drive to work.

But without the wheelchair, O’Brien was bed-ridden, needing help anytime she needed to do even the simplest of tasks.

“I’m in bed, can’t go or do anything without it,” O’Brien said of her situation before her wheelchair was return. “Anytime I need to leave my bed, someone has to carry me somewhere, which is really hard and uncomfortable on me.”

The debacle started last week when O’Brien joined family on a trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. O’Brien said the vacation was great, until they started traveling back to Chicago.

“We were flying home Saturday on Frontier Airlines and unfortunately on takeoff, the planes hydraulics went out, which was pretty scary,” O’Brien said. “[We] had to make an emergency landing in Orlando.”

That was just the start of what became a nightmare for O’Brien. She and 182 other passengers were marooned at Orlando International Airport for more than 12 hours.

“The chair never came over those 12 hours,” O’Brien said.

The next day, O’Brien was told by a gate agent with Frontier Airlines that her customized wheelchair would be on the flight with them back to O’Hare, but when they landed, she was informed it was still in Orlando. She was then promised it would be delivered on a separate flight to Midway International Airport — but in that instance too — the wheelchair never arrived.

In a statement, a spokesperson with Frontier Airlines apologized for what happened to O’Brien during her trip and went on to share that the wheelchair would be delivered Monday around 7 p.m.

At that point, O’Brien’s primary concern wasn’t whether she’d ever get her wheelchair back, but rather what condition it would be in when it arrived. According to O’Brien, her wheelchair is worth $50,000.

“On and off planes, moving around, pulling on parts. It could potentially not even work if I get it back,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said she knows others in the disability community refuse to travel because of issues just like hers, which highlights just how difficult it can be for people like her to fly.

“”It’s not fair to people with disabilities that don’t get to travel for the fear of it,” O’Brien said. “Then those of us that do … end up stuck in bed for 48 hours and counting.”

According to O’Brien, a Frontier Airlines worker assured her if she notices any problems with the chair in the coming days, she can call them, and they will pay for repairs.

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