Steve Scharton and Desmond McNeal

March 23, 2022
A photo of Steve Scharton
Steve Scharton

Popping a wheelie all part of the plan to rescue a 400-pound electric wheelchair for a patient

By Jane Adair, for UCHealth

On the count of three, Desmond McNeal and Steve Scharton gave the 400-pound electric wheelchair a shove. It was just the push they needed to get it to pop a wheelie.

With a few more heave-hos they rocked the wheelchair off the sidewalk and onto a flatbed trailer then drove it to the hospital for a patient who was anxiously awaiting its arrival.

So smoothly was this act of kindness performed, one might think Scharton and McNeal do this kind of thing together regularly. But the men — both of whom work at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital — had not crossed paths before that November day.

Only an hour earlier, Scharton, a 63-year-old radiology nurse, was driving home after buying some motorcycle parts on his day off when he spotted something that stopped him in his tracks.

“I’m a block away from my house and I see this electric wheelchair sitting in the middle of the street,” he said. “I’m like, that’s not right. Is somebody hurt? Are they laying in the bushes?”

Scharton drove past the wheelchair again. Still no person. When he went in for a closer look, he saw the chair for what it was — a $12,000 to $15,000-machine designed for a quadriplegic.

“I’m a registered nurse, so I know what these things are. They’re heavy and they’re pricey,” Scharton said. “Something wasn’t right.” He called the police.

While on hold with the Aurora Police Department, Scharton noticed a man drive up, pop the trunk of his vehicle, and begin “messing” with the chair.

It was McNeal, trying to maneuver the wheelchair by himself.

McNeal, a 41-year-old paramedic and emergency medical services manager, had volunteered to fetch the chair, which belonged to a homeless man being treated in the emergency department at UCH. The medics who’d transported the man had to leave the wheelchair behind since there was not enough room in the van.

McNeal had already left work and was on his way to pick up his kids from school when his phone chimed. It was a message from the hospital’s ED care-management manager, marked “urgent.” Could McNeal retrieve the man’s wheelchair, last seen in the Seven Hills neighborhood?

“I said, ‘sure, I’ll go,’” McNeal said. “I thought I’d be able to take it apart and put it in the back of my car.”

However, “this thing,” he said, “weighed like a million pounds.” And it wasn’t about to come apart. At that moment, a stranger walked up, and said, “Hey, you need some help?”

It was Scharton. When he noticed McNeal wearing a UCHealth badge, he showed his employee ID, and they immediately got to work.

Scharton offered to get a flatbed motorcycle trailer at his house nearby to pull the wheelchair to the hospital. Within 45 minutes they’d “wheelied the wheelchair,” strapped it to the trailer, and towed it to the ED.

Though both were off the clock, Scharton and McNeal say helping a patient, who had nowhere to go, is all in a day’s work.

The man was stranded.  “And we just did what we had to do,” Scharton said. “We got the wheelchair off the street and back to the patient.”

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