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The Incredible Stair-Climbing, Self-Parking, Amphibious Wheelchair

An Army vet’s quest to give paraplegics their life back
Brad Soden
Brad SodenPhotograph by Benjamin Rasmussen for Bloomberg Businessweek

On the morning of Jan. 6, 2007, U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Hoffman and his platoon were notified of possible insurgent activity near their station in Fallujah, Iraq. When they arrived and began a sweep of an alley, Hoffman, a tall, strapping former wrestler with a passion for muscle cars, stood out. A sniper perched in a building behind him fired a single 7.62-millimeter round that tore through his neck, shattered his upper spine, and knocked him to the ground, paralyzed and unable to breathe. In the scramble to save him, a trachea tube inserted to prevent asphyxiation severed his vocal cords, depriving him, on top of everything else, of the ability to speak.

Hoffman’s rehabilitation was lengthy and grueling, both physically and psychologically. At one point he became so frustrated that he stopped communicating with his doctors and a parent had to assume power of attorney for him. “It was a really long road,” says his caretaker, Brenda Johncock. After two years in veterans hospitals, he returned home to Middleville, Mich., where volunteers built him a wheelchair-friendly home with an extrawide doorway to the garage and his Mustang. He could no longer drive it—any movement required help—but just going out to look at it made him happy.