Knightdale paralyzed bride gifted with special van

Posted August 12, 2011 3:27 p.m. EDT
Updated August 12, 2011 11:55 p.m. EDT

— A paralyzed Knightdale newlywed and her husband are still opening presents after their wedding last month.

Rachelle Friedman and Chris Chapman on Friday got a new Toyota Sienna minivan converted for wheelchair access.

"This van is crazy awesome," she said.

"It doesn't look like a car of a person with a disability. You wouldn't think that whoever drives that is in a chair. So I like that about it very much."

Chapman said the hand controls promised by Raleigh company Van Products will give his bride one of the things she prizes the most. 

"Therapy and rehab is one of our biggest concerns right now, ever since she's been hurt," he said.

"The word that keeps going through our head is independence – what does she need to do to be independent? And this van is an enormous step for that."

Tim Harrell, president of Van Products, said he wants the same thing. "Her dream is to be able to drive again and that's what we want to see."

In May 2010, Friedman was paralyzed in a freak accident when one of her bridesmaids shoved her in a pool a month before her wedding. She crushed the sixth vertebra in her neck and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

After delaying the wedding for her recovery, the couple married on July 22.

Toyota officials heard about her story and decided to make the van a gift. It is equipped with a navigation system and voice-controlled phone. Braun Ability converted it for wheelchair access.

"I've never seen a van like that till they showed it to me, so I'm more than excited to drive it and ride it. I can't wait," Friedman said.

She will undergo special therapy in California next month. If that therapy helps her to drive, Van Products of Raleigh said it will adapt the car seat and controls to her needs.