After Two Difficult Diagnoses, Braun Couple Redefines Their Lives

AbilityVoice: a blog about mobility topics

Mike and Beth Shirk live in a single story home in a quiet community in the north part of San Diego. They are both artists, and their work has won awards in watercolor exhibitions. But that's not what makes them such an unusual couple. To understand that, you need only watch as they arrive at their latest art exhibition. The ramp of the Braun Entervan lowers, and Beth emerges in her wheelchair. A few moments later, Mike follows her down the ramp in his own power wheelchair.

Their life wasn't always like this. For most of their married lives, they were both apparently in perfect health. Mike was an advertising executive, a distance runner, a golfer, and avid fisherman. Beth was a stay-at-home mom and artist. They loved to take long trips up and down the Pacific Coast, occasionally camping, but usually staying in quaint bed and breakfasts.

In 1996, Mike was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a very rare, progressive, and untreatable muscle disease.As the IBM progressed, Mike's life began to change. Running and golf were the first to go. Then he had to trade in his compact sports car for a van large enough to haul his scooter and a lift to pick it up and take with him to work. By the year 2000, he was no longer able to continue with his career.

Mike and Beth began adjusting to what they assumed would be a life where she would be his caregiver. But in 2005, Beth received her own diagnosis: myotonic muscular dystrophy. Another rare, progressive, and untreatable muscle disease.Shortly after that, they traded in the first vehicle for a second wheelchair van equipped with a ramp so Mike could drive up the ramp in his scooter (he'd become to weak to safely walk to the rear of the vehicle and get in the driver's seat). He also added a transfer seat to help him get from the scooter into the driver seat.

Once they got over the shock of this new roadblock, a new challenge surfaced. Beth had developed macular degeneration, losing most of her eyesight in one eye. That, along with cataracts, left her unable to drive, which meant that Mike would need to be the driver for both of them.

Mike talked with his mobility dealer, Ability Center in San Diego, and together they decided the best solution would be for Mike to drive from his wheelchair. This would allow him to pull into the space where the driver's seat would be and provide room for Beth to park her wheelchair or walker, depending on which she was using. Since there would only be one vehicle for the family, it was important that it be the most reliable on the market. The dealer suggested they trade in the older mobility van they were driving for a new Braun Entervan.

That was five years ago, and they are still using their Braun Entervan every day. They continue to paint and three of their paintings are now included in the Muscular Dystrophy Association's National Art Collection. For a closer to look at their artwork and Mike's disability blog, click here! Mike is planning on contributing to AbilityVoice occasionally, and we're looking forward to reading more from his point-of-view!