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Off-roading wheelchairs give high adventure new meaning

Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” celebrates these unsung community members and brings to light their quiet contributions.

For all his 36 years, Sam Durst, of Springville, has been unable to use his legs and arms, and has been confined to a wheelchair since he was three because of cerebral palsy.

For Sam that often means not being able to go and do things with family and friends that he would dearly love to do. For his family, that means they haven’t done all the things they would like to outdoors.

“Our family has always loved being outdoors and exploring,” said Christine Durst, Sam’s mother. “When Sam was little, his dad Roger would put him in a backpack to carry him around. But when Sam got older and bigger, it became more limiting in our outdoor adventuring as a family.”

Now thanks to Extreme Motus Off-Road Wheelchairs, made in Orem, Sam is going and doing things he never dreamed of.

Ryan Grassley, a longtime friend of Sam’s, introduced the family to the off-roading wheelchairs, and he has been able to be a part of some great adventures with the Dursts.

“I knew the Dursts to be outdoors type of people,” Grassley said. “These wheelchairs are built right in Orem and they didn’t know it.”

After seeing and using the wheelchairs for Sam, Grassley was so impressed he went to work for Extreme Motus.

Extreme Motus, a full-running wheelchair manufacturing business, was started by three friends, Adam Beasley, Todd Loader and Dale Pitts on July 24, 2018. However, the first wheelchair prototype was built about 18 years ago.

According to Pitts, a tree fell over in a local Provo park. It paralyzed Emma Sorensen, but it killed her grandmother and cousin.

Pitts was on the Provo Fire and Rescue crew at the time and knew the story.

“The first chair style was built 18 years ago for mountain climbing,” Pitts said. “It was made so this little girl could go to the top of Timpanogos.”

Since that time, there have been a number of tweaks and styles added to the Extreme Motus wheelchair line with the premier wheelchair being the Emma X3.

The leather seats are most often formed like crash car seats that are built up on the side for extra protection. There are a variety of ways to be belted in, and the length can be somewhat adjusted.

The seats can be customized with a logo or artwork. The Emma X3 costs about $3,495 and can be rented for about $50 a day.

“In the world of medical equipment, it’s a deal,” Pitts said.

Additionally, the handle bars offer hand breaks and some models are battery operated to help give extra power to the one pushing the wheelchair when needed, like over rocks, gravel, sand and up mountains.

“Sam loves adventuring along with the rest of us and has been downhill skiing through National Abilities in Park City for over 22 years,” Christine said. “Our oldest Son Nick designed and built a one track chair to take Sam hiking, but it had limits on its use.”

Christine said she and Roger were excited to discover the Emma X3 from Extreme Motus as another way to get Sam exploring new places only dreamed of.

“This backcountry wheelchair goes on sand, snow and floats in the water,” Christine Durst said. “Hiking, no problem, mud, no worries, snow, no big deal, soaking up sand and surf, amazing.”

Sam runs and bikes with friends and family in a special trailer engineered by a BYU Capstone program. So, the Dursts openly look for opportunities and ways to help Sam enjoy the world around him.

The Extreme Motus Emma X3 Off-road Wheelchair gives Sam the opportunity for high adventure.

The Emma X3 — named after Emma Sorensen who it was first made for — has three rubber wheels, is made from stainless steel and aluminum and is light and easy to push.

“When we took Sam to Arches National Park in Utah this fall, we were a bit skeptical that this could be a realized dream for the whole family, yet we did it.” Christine said. “How amazing to be at the top of Delicate Arch with others cheering as we crested the summit and felt the thrill of achievement through helping hands and a device that made it so possible for that amazing moment. A very big deal to the Durst family.”

“We couldn’t take him on sand,” Roger said. “Now we can go. It’s such a riot.”

Roger said there are lots of beaches and sand in their coming trips.

“I have run and biked with Sam. He’s been in 10Ks and 5Ks, and the Freedom Festival Freedom Run,” Roger said.

Christine added, “If we can do this, anyone can.”

With a great smile Sam said, “I’ve been bounced in that chair.”

Pitts said one of the reasons it’s a good fit for people like Sam is the tires absorb the rocky bumps like their own shock absorbers. And it can hold just about any weight.

“We’ll make something if there is someone with special needs,” Pitts said. “We built a chair for BYU football players.”

Pitts said Extreme Motus recently helped a man with multiple sclerosis who wanted to go deer hunting.

“He got his deer right from the chair,” Pitts said.

Christine said they were planning on going snowshoeing since the chair goes through snow.

The Dursts said planning a vacation for the whole family added extra layers when dealing with Sam’s needs.

“You’re always thinking there is this other thing you have to plan,” Roger said. “The wheelchair makes that planning easier. It’s another step in exploring new places.”

Grassley took Sam on this fall’s Dirty Dash 5K and they were waist-deep in mud but the wheelchair came out the other side in good shape.

Pitts said they also developed a wheelchair for the July 24th Temple to Temple run in Provo.

For those interested is seeing or trying out a wheelchair, visit https://extrememotus.com or call (801) 425-6534.

Colleges, including UVU and BYU, struggle with soaring student demand for counseling

More college students are turning to their schools for help with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, and many must wait weeks for treatment or find help elsewhere as campus clinics struggle to meet demand, an Associated Press review of more than three dozen public universities found.

On some campuses, the number of students seeking treatment has nearly doubled over the last five years while overall enrollment has remained relatively flat. The increase has been tied to reduced stigma around mental health, along with rising rates of depression and other disorders. Universities have expanded their mental health clinics, but the growth is often slow, and demand keeps surging.

Long waits have provoked protests at schools from Maryland to California, in some cases following student suicides. Meanwhile, campus counseling centers grapple with low morale and high burnout as staff members face increasingly heavy workloads.

“It’s an incredible struggle, to be honest,” said Jamie Davidson, associate vice president for student wellness at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has 11 licensed counselors for 30,000 students. “It’s stressful on our staff and our resources. We’ve increased it, but you’re never going to talk to anyone in the mental health field who tells you we have sufficient resources.”

The Associated Press requested five years of data from the largest public university in each state. A total of 39 provided annual statistics from their counseling clinics or health centers. The remaining 11 said they did not have complete records or had not provided records five months after they were requested.

The data shows that most universities are working to scale up their services, but many are far outpaced by demand.

Since 2014, the number of students getting mental health treatment at those schools has grown by 35%, while total enrollment grew just 5%. By last year, nearly 1 in 10 students were coming for help, but the number of licensed counselors changed little, from an average of 16 to 19 over five years.

On some campuses, that amounts to one counselor for every 4,000 students, including at Utah Valley University. An industry accrediting group suggests a minimum of one counselor per 1,500 students, but few of the 39 universities met that benchmark.

When Ashtyn Aure checked in at the mental health clinic at Utah Valley last year, she was suffering anxiety attacks and had not slept for days. Her mind kept returning to past traumas. When she asked to see a counselor, a staff member told her the wait list stretched for months. She left without getting help.

“I was so obviously distressed, and that was the place I was supposed to go. What do you do after that? Do you go to the hospital? Do you phone a friend?” said Aure, 25, who graduated this year.

Ultimately, she turned to her church, which helped her find therapy at an outside clinic. “If it wasn’t for that,” she said, “I don’t know.”

Officials at Utah Valley said they are working to avoid such cases. If staff know a student is in crisis, they said, a counselor can see that person in a matter of minutes. But staff members have only a few moments to make an assessment.

“Unfortunately, stories like this are not that uncommon,” said Dr. William Erb, senior director of student health services at Utah Valley. “We train, review and revise these procedures so that situations like this can be avoided as much as possible.”

At most universities, students contemplating suicide or otherwise in crisis are offered help right away. Others are asked to schedule an appointment. For cases that are not urgent, the wait can range from hours to months, depending on the time of year and the design of the clinic.

Many schools that provided data to the AP said it takes weeks to get an initial appointment. At Utah Valley, students waited an average of more than four weeks last year. At the University of Washington at Seattle, it was three weeks. During busy times at Louisiana State, wait times stretched to four or five weeks.

Some other schools have adopted a model that provides screenings the same day students ask for help, but it can take weeks to get further treatment.

To some students, waiting is just an inconvenience. But it raises the risk that some young people will forgo help entirely, potentially allowing their problems to snowball.

Students at Brigham Young University drew attention to delays last year after a student took her own life on campus. Days after the suicide, an anonymous letter was posted at the counseling center describing the dilemma some students face.

“I have a therapist on campus, and he is wonderful and well qualified. But I only see him once a month. Because he has too many clients to see in one week,” the letter said. “It is the story of many of us barely getting by here at BYU. If I died would anything change?”

Students at the University of Maryland called for change last year after some on campus said they had to wait 30 days or more for an initial appointment. Organizers called the campaign “30 Days Too Late.”

“We quickly realized that there were a lot of people on campus who believed in what we were doing and had had their own experiences,” said Garrett Mogge, a junior who helped organize the effort. “Thirty days can be a long time. And once you get there, it’s too late for some people.”

Officials at the University of Maryland said the campaign showed there was a need to raise awareness about same-day crisis services available on campus. The school also has hired additional counselors since the campaign began.

Other schools that have received student petitions to improve counseling include Michigan State, Louisiana State, Columbia and Cornell universities.

For cases that are not urgent, some argue that waiting isn’t necessarily bad — and could even lead to better outcomes.

A recent study found greater reductions in anxiety and depression at clinics that focus on providing students counseling at regular intervals, a system that might mean waiting for a therapist’s caseload to open. That practice was compared with clinics that offer quick initial help but cannot always provide routine follow-up treatment.

The study by Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that prioritizing access over treatment “may have significant negative consequences for students in need.”

The rising demand for campus mental health care has been attributed to an array of factors. Stigma around the issue has faded, encouraging more students to get help. Disorders that once prevented students from going to college are no longer seen as a barrier. Some people believe social media fuels anxiety, while others say today’s students simply have more trouble coping with stress.

Mass shootings, and the fear they spread, have also been suggested as a factor. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, saw an increase in demand following a 2017 shooting at a nearby county music festival that left 58 people dead and hundreds wounded.

“That really increased the number of students we were seeing,” said Davidson, the head of student wellness. The school later hired a trauma specialist and added a student mental health fee to hire more counselors, among other measures to reduce wait times.

For years, national surveys have found rising rates of anxiety and depression among college students. Most colleges that provided data to the AP said those conditions, and stress, were the most common complaints. Some schools also have seen more students struggling with thoughts of suicide.

The shifting landscape has spurred many universities to rethink how they provide help, including offering more short-term treatment options. More students are being steered to group therapy or anxiety workshops. Counseling centers offer yoga, and many train students to counsel one another.

“We’re reframing what mental health looks like at a school. It’s not necessarily 10 therapists sitting in offices,” said Erb, the student health director at Utah Valley.

Rising demand has also opened doors for businesses promising solutions. Some schools have signed on with companies that provide therapy over the phone or through video chats. Others urge students to try smartphone apps.

But some say the changes will help little if clinics remain understaffed. Counselors at some California State University campuses are pressing the system to hire more staff even as it expands peer counseling programs and wellness workshops. A faculty union is lobbying to reach a ratio of one counselor for every 1,500 students. The system estimates it has one for every 2,700 students.

“Some students come in, and they can be seen maybe once every five or six weeks. They are shocked, because that’s not what they’re used to out in the real world,” said Martha Cuan, a counselor at Stanislaus State University, one of the system’s 23 campuses.

A state bill requiring the system to set a goal to meet the lower ratio failed to gain traction in the state Legislature this year, but its sponsor plans to reintroduce it next year. Other states tackling the issue include Illinois, which in August approved a law telling public universities to aim for one counselor per 1,250 students.

For many schools, finding the money to add counselors is a challenge. Many campus clinics don’t charge students for services and generate little or no revenue. A 2016 bill in Congress proposed new grants for university counseling, but it never advanced to a vote.

Some schools are adding new campus fees to hire counselors or are subsidizing clinics through athletics revenue, as the University of Texas recently did.

Overall, the AP analysis found that campus counseling budgets have increased by about 25% over the last five years, but levels vary widely, from more than $200 per student at some campuses to less than $40 at others.

The way students feel about campus mental health services is mixed, according to a recent poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Among adults ages 18 through 29 who have pursued higher education, about a third said colleges do a good job handling mental health needs, while about as many said they think schools do a bad job. Another 3 in 10 said it’s neither good nor bad.

Most university presidents say mental health is a growing concern, but they lack the tools to address it, according to a separate survey of school chiefs by the American Council on Education. Given unlimited funding, the survey found, most presidents said they would first hire more mental health staff.

On any campus, the greatest fear is that a student in dire need could fall through the cracks. Mike and Kim Predmore believe that’s what happened to their son, Chris, who was struggling as a freshman at Illinois State University in 2014.

He had just been through a bad breakup. He didn’t make the soccer team. He was stressed about school and wasn’t sleeping. One night, he texted a friend and talked about suicide. His family persuaded him to visit the campus counseling center for help.

At an initial screening, Chris Predmore told a counselor he was not thinking about suicide but wanted to try therapy, according to notes from the visit. He was told that there was a wait on campus and that he should explore nearby clinics with his parents. He never did. Two days later, he took his own life.

His parents have since become regulars at a support group for families of suicide victims. Three other couples in the group also lost children who were in college. The Predmores wonder why there aren’t more counselors and why schools can’t do more. Often, they just wonder what might have been.

“I think if they would have said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get you into counseling,’ I don’t think he’d be dead,” Kim Predmore said. “I don’t know. I’ll never know. But I think he would have been able to hang on.”

'Guardian angels' at Payson Police Department honor officer's wife who died of cancer

After battling an aggressive and rare form of cancer for more than one year, the wife of a Payson Police Department officer died earlier this month.

Officers and department staff rallied together to support Officer Alex Knighton and attended the funeral of Kara Knighton on Thursday.

“(Doctors) tried to do what they could over the last several months and couldn’t keep it down,” said Sgt. Austin Cobbley, the first field training officer to work Alex Knighton.

In November 2018, Kara Knighton was diagnosed with a form of Ewing-like sarcoma. Doctors believed the cancer was an extremely rare anomaly since the stage IV cancer did not meet every marker for Ewing’s sarcoma.

The police department immediately started raising donations to help the couple pay for diagnostics and treatment, as well as volunteering to cover work shifts whenever Alex Knighton traveled to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.

“The moment that you joined a law enforcement agency is the moment your family grew to 800,000 plus,” Alex Knighton said last year in an interview with the Daily Herald. “It’s never proven so true.”

After months of chemotherapy treatments, surgeries and radiation sessions, doctors found additional tumors in Kara Knighton’s brain that had survived the medical procedures.

“Had I not had the support of my department — not only just my department, but complete and utter strangers who have never met me or even been to Utah just reaching out with monetary donations or words of support — I would not be able to do any of this,” Alex Knighton said last year.

He met Kara Knighton in high school at South Jordan and he sat behind her in an English class. He always thought she hated him, but May was their seventh marriage anniversary.

But this month, at 29 years old, Kara Knighton was moved to hospice care and passed away the morning of Nov. 16.

The Salem Police Department helped cover shifts and answer calls so almost everyone with the department could attend the funeral.

“In his closing remarks at the service, Alex mentioned that Kara called the Payson Police Department her guardian angels,” Cobbley said.

He explained the department changed an America First Credit Union charitable account to a memorial account on Facebook posts in hopes for community donations to cover funeral costs.

“We’re doing everything we can for him and support him and get him through this,” Cobbley said. “Aside from Kara, he’s probably one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”