Liz Soden had had her life turned upside down when she became partially paralyzed after a freak accident. Then, years after the incident, she noticed that her husband kept going off on his own. When Liz discovered the real reason for her spouse’s sneaking around, however, she couldn’t help but cry.
Back before the accident in 1999, though, Liz had been a school bus driver and a reserve sheriff with plans to join the police academy. Her then-boyfriend Brad Soden, on the other hand, was a combat veteran and firefighter. And occasionally the couple’s jobs would overlap: if there was a nearby blaze, for instance, he sometimes fought it while she controlled the traffic in the area.
In their spare time, however, the couple did a lot of volunteering – in particular, by helping out at local schools. They also enjoyed leading an active lifestyle, frequently going camping, water skiing and hiking.
And Brad, who had three sons of his own, had quickly fallen in love with the mother-of-two. Indeed, the dad had already known that he wanted to be with Liz forever after just a couple of weeks of dating. “She’s the most unselfish person, nicest, always smiling,” Brad would later reveal. “Always got something good to say.”
Just three days after Liz’s 35th birthday, however, tragedy struck. The mom got into a serious car accident and was subsequently flown to Vegas, where the doctor informed her that she had broken her back. He then uttered some words that no one ever wants to hear: “Call your family, and say your goodbyes.” So, Liz duly phoned her mother to tell her the bad news.
Thankfully, though, and despite the prognosis, Liz’s condition improved. Nonetheless, there was still some more heart-breaking news to hear: in short, she found out that she was never going to walk again. And in her characteristically selfless manner, Liz then told Brad that she would understand if he wanted to leave her so that he could find someone “normal.”
But Brad chose not to say his goodbyes; instead, he showed Liz just how invested he was in their relationship. While she was still in her hospital bed, he proposed, in fact. And six months after that, the couple were married in a desert ceremony.
Liz didn’t want her wheelchair in any wedding photos, though, so Brad arranged for her to sit in a golf cart. She was driven first by her grandfather and then by her new husband. And for their first dance, Brad picked Liz up and moved for the both of them.
Devastatingly, though, there were plenty more difficulties ahead for Liz. As the years went on, in fact, she suffered infection after infection and was often at death’s doorstep. As a result, she underwent almost a dozen blood transfusions and five surgeries; she also had no fewer than 32 hyperbaric chamber treatments in the hope of speeding up her recovery.
Liz had also had a severe adverse reaction to antibiotics that almost led to her liver shutting down, resulting in her spending six days in intensive care. And after each of her surgeries over the years, she was usually bed-bound for weeks and so needed carers to tend to her.
Everyday tasks have consequently become a challenge for the mom and wife, although she tries not to dwell on the negatives as they can cause her to break down in tears. “I always have backaches. My back hurts all the time,” she has revealed. “There are days I get frustrated and angry when I can’t do something.”
Nonetheless, Brad has remained a shining light for Liz. She went on, “He’s my life, he’s my backbone, he’s my strength. I just love him so much.” And those feelings seem to be reciprocated, as Brad has seemingly dedicated himself to helping his wife feel better. He explained, “My job for the rest of my life is to make her happy. She needs something, I put it there. If they don’t make it, I’ll make it. If it’s bad, I’ll find a way to fix it.”
What’s more, Brad’s quest to assist his wife led him to spend lots of time away from home on a special project. This creation has been dubbed the Tankchair; essentially, it’s a mega-wheelchair that can be driven across rough ground with its heavy-duty treads. The invention can even glide up staircases and speed through muddy hills, sand and snow.
And Brad made the Tankchair particularly durable by adding a motorized caterpillar track system to the contraption instead of wheels. He explained this unusual move by saying, “People who design wheelchairs generally design them for getting around inside of a building or a home. For that, they’re great, since they don’t damage carpets or flooring. But it also means they want you to basically just exist but not to live.”
Brad spent $50,000 and two years on making the Tankchair – not to mention, as he would explain in a 2014 interview with The Washington Post, “a whole lot of blood, sweat and beer.” During that time, he had needed to experiment with different materials and engines to find the perfect matches for the chair that he had envisioned.
But, naturally, Brad had to exercise caution to avoid certain risks. He later told The Washington Post, “You don’t want to put a disabled person on something that he may need to run away from when the going gets bad.” In time, though, he found the best way to put the chair together, considering issues such as the voltage, horsepower and control system required.
And Liz was delighted when she saw what her husband had created for her, even if it does get her some attention from others. She told Bloomberg in 2014, “We’re taught as a society that it’s not polite to stare. But people who get hurt don’t want to be shunned. Once they get in the chair, people will stop and come over.”
What’s more, Brad is now selling the extreme wheelchairs to people with similar needs to his dear wife. In fact, he has since created many different versions tailored to his clients’ requirements; one such Tankchair was made with a text-to-speech system for someone who was unable to speak, for example. These products sell for around $15,000 each through his website.
And Brad has also launched the Liz Soden Foundation, which aims to donate wheelchairs and scooters to those who cannot afford them. He is also hoping to bring down the price of his Tankchairs to $10,000, so that they become more accessible to a greater number of people.
In time, then, we’re sure that he will make a difference to the lives of many. But there’s no doubt that the one person on whom he’s had the greatest impact is his thankful wife Liz. And, together, they’ve proved that you can get through anything.