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“Giving them the gift of standing up:” Unique “paramobile” gives those who are paralyzed a new lease on life

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Andy Meier hadn't played golf in years. He figured he might never swing a club again. But today -- thanks to a life-changing invention, Andy is able to stand up and play. It's an invention that can change the lives of many in his position.

Andy Meier loves golf. In fact, he loves life.

But his life changed seven years ago on a family pilgrimage to eastern Europe to visit the holy place Medjugorje. The bus they were on was heading up the mountains. The driver of a semi was coming downhill too fast.

"I can see that we're just gonna get nailed. And so like a parent's instinct, I went across the aisle to get on top of my son -- my four-year-old at the time. And that's really the last thing I remember," Meier said.

Doctors didn't think Meier would make it. They had no medical explanation when he did. The crash left Meier paralyzed.

"It's a devastation, and it's a very dark period, but then there's a moment in your life and you get a realization. Hey, why not concentrate on the things I can do?" Meier said.

One day, Meier was watching a golf tournament -- wishing he could play. He Googled paraplegic golf -- and up popped "the paramobile." He saw a fellow swinging away out of traps -- putting on the green.

"I had tried other devices and there's nothing wrong with them -- sitting down and playing and doing activities, but when I saw this guy stand up and secured and swing away -- I said 'that's the one for me,'" Meier said.

That was almost two years ago. Today, Meier has a new lease on life.

"It's given me an empowerment of freedom to get a piece of my life back. It's just not playing golf -- it's playing with other people. The victory is in the participation. Standing is such a therapeutic exercise. It gets the blood flowing. It gets everything moving," Meier said.

Best of all, the paramobile has allowed Meier to stand up and kiss Elizabeth -- his bride of 24 years.

"The dream to be able to look somebody in the eye is what able-bodied people -- you don't even think about it. It's taken for granted. Trust me -- once you get to this level, you don't take it for granted anymore. You really cherish the moments when you're able to do this. You talk about helping the mind, helping your spirit -- this is it, man," Meier said.

"I always said I am his first love. Golf is his second love. So for him to be able to get out of the house, to stand up, to play -- I love that there's something that makes him happy," Elizabeth Meier said.

Playing golf with his son Frankie, now 11 years old, is something that makes Andy Meier happy.

"Those are the most cherished moments -- when I get to play with my son. The father-son relationship, there's nowhere else I could do that when we have private time together. It's very heart-moving. It's a terrific time that we get to spend together," Meier said.

"I don't know. It grabbed me. I saw his eyes and I thought 'everybody should be able to do what we're doing,'" Karen Ellenbecker said.

Ellenbecker met Andy Meier by chance, while playing Chenequa Country Club in Hartland. Seeing Meier play golf and stand up in the paramobile blew her away.

"I would wake up at night just thinking about it and it came to me that God said 'you can do this,'" Ellenbecker said.

Ellenbecker, founder of "Stand Up and Play" bought three paramobiles in the hopes of finding people who could use them -- and not just for golf.

22 years ago, Jane Fortin was in a car accident that left her with brain damage and a broken neck. The paramobile has been a life-changing experience for her.

"It's really cool! I walked around the zoo! That was really neat. I could walk with my family around the zoo. It meant the world to me. I can't even explain the feeling of freedom," Fortin said.

Nearly 5.6 million Americans are paralyzed. Ellenbecker's mission is to give as many as possible the chance to stand up and play -- and live life to its fullest again.

"There's a bigger picture than this, and it's going to take a lot of help for me to raise the awareness to get people to invest in being volunteers. I think we could go off the charts with this. Our goal is to help as many people as possible -- to give them the gift of standing up," Ellenbecker said.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Stand Up and Play -- and the paramobile.