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Disabled Woman Died From Complications Sustained After United Airlines Damaged Her Wheelchair

Disabled Woman Died From Complications Sustained After United Airlines Damaged Her Wheelchair

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A severely disabled woman whose highly customized wheelchair was damaged by United Airlines died of complications from injuries sustained while she lived in an inadequate temporary wheelchair, claims a charity who had advocated on her behalf following the incident.

Hand in Hand, which describes itself as a national network of employers of nannies, housecleaners and home attendants, says Engracia Figueroa passed away in the early hours of Sunday, October 31, after being admitted to the ICU two weeks ago.

Engracia was described by the charity as a “joyful, fierce, and creative leader” who was passionate about advocating for people with disabilities. As well as being heavily involved in Hand in Hand’s work in Los Angeles, Engracia was an animal rights activist, surfer and devout vegan.

In July, Engracia traveled to Washington DC to represent the charity at the Care Can’t Wait Rally to demand Congress “make investments in our broken home care system”. Her appearance at the rally was made possible by a customized wheelchair that was specially designed to support her spinal cord injury and left leg amputation.

On the return trip home, United Airlines is accused of damaging the wheelchair and then forcing Engracia to sit in a broken manual wheelchair for five hours.

“Her struggle to maintain her balance over that length of time in the faulty device led to significant injuries,” the charity said in a statement. “When she was finally able to return home, she experienced acute pain, and was admitted to the hospital multiple times in the subsequent months.”

United Airlines allegedly refused to replace the “demolished” wheelchair and insisted it could be fixed. The airline provided a loaner chair which didn’t support Engracia’s weight properly and resulted in her developing a skin ulcer that became infected.

Ultimately, United agreed to replace the customized wheelchair at a cost of $30,000 but complications from her injuries became too severe and she was admitted to the hospital.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for United Airlines said: “We were saddened to hear about Ms. Figueroa’s passing and we offer our condolences to her friends and family.”

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. airlines lose or damage on average 29 wheelchairs every single day. In August, United was blamed for ‘mishandling’ 73 wheelchairs.

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