“It’s honestly my independence”: Victoria O’Brien’s custom, motorized wheelchair goes missing after arriving at JFK
PORT JEFFERSON STATION, N.Y. — A college student with disabilities from Long Island is stuck in an old manual wheelchair after her multi-thousand dollar custom-made motorized chair went missing when she landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport on May 4.
CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reached out to the airline, and officials now say they hope to replace it.
“It’s honestly my independence. I’ve been in a wheelchair full time since I was 13,” said Victoria O’Brien.
O’Brien, a graduate student, finished the semester and flew home to Long Island last week.
When she got off the plane at JFK, her $6,000 motorized, programmed wheelchair was nowhere to be found.
“I showed the disability attendant a picture of my wheelchair and he realized that he did see a man and a woman push,” O’Brien said.
They pushed the wheelchair off the jet bridge. O’Brien, hoping it was an honest mistake, waited, hoping.
“It was three, almost four hours after my flight arrived,” O’Brien said.
Finally she returned home without her wheelchair. Her mom salvaged an old one from the garage that is manual, and half broken.
“It’s not really safe for me to be in it anyway, but at the current moment that’s all I have,” she said.
Her summer job at a Fresh Air camp for disabled youth begins next week. She needs to be able to traverse great distances.
“I just want American Airlines to be more accountable and realize that it’s not luggage. It’s my freedom, my independence,” O’Brien said.
Her mother says American Airlines personnel told her they must wait 30 days before the wheelchair is officially declared missing.
“I am like your average 25-year-old. I want to experience life and go out with friends,” O’Brien said.
After age 18, insurance rules change. Her chair was just months old.
“As a disabled person, you’re only allowed to get a wheelchair through insurance every 5-10 years, because you’re no longer growing,” she explained.
When pressed, American Airlines told CBS2 as they work to investigate and resolve this. They have initiated the process to provide a permanent replacement.
“I was in denial at first. Now I’m just angry and sad and I really just want my chair back,” O’Brien said.
Cerebral palsy has not slowed O’Brien. She doesn’t want a stolen or lost wheelchair to hold her back from pursuing her dreams.
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