A man whose highly customised wheelchair was stolen yesterday said he's "overwhelmed" that a crowdfunding campaign to get him a new one has already passed £20,000.
Dom Hyams, 27, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones, first announced the theft on Wednesday, in a Facebook post that's now been shared more than 8,500 times.
The chair – which cost £17,500 and was donated to him by a charity – was stolen as he was visiting a friend in Stoke Newington, in northeast London, on Wednesday morning.
The Metropolitan police said it was looking into the matter and that no arrests had been made so far.
Hyams said he feared it could be sold for scrap for as little as £1,000 or £2,000.
A Gofundme page set up by Hyams' sister, Holly, to pay for a new chair is, as of this writing, now just £5,000 short of its £25,000 target.
Holly wrote: "Dom leads a very happy and independent life. He works full time, and he is a vocal advocate of independence for disabled people. This will all change dramatically without the use of a specially adapted chair. Please help if you can, I cannot emphasise enough how devastating this is for Dom.
"If the wheelchair is found, we will divide all money donated evenly between two charities – The Brittle Bone Society and Action for Kids, who originally helped fund Dom's wheelchair."
Hyams, from St Albans, told BuzzFeed News: "The support has been absolutely overwhelming."
"I'm doing better today than yesterday. If it's going to be found it's going to be found by the good of the people."
He explained that it's not just a wheelchair to him, but his independence. "To be honest it's been way more upsetting and bizarre than I thought it would be. It's part of me," he said.
"But the well-wishing and supporting since it happened has been mind-blowing. For every one wheelchair thief there are 20,000 wonderful people."
Normally the process of applying for charity funding to buy a wheelchair is a laborious and lengthy process – but Hyams said the crowdfunding cash has "taken a lot of the potential scare of not knowing what to do – it's a wonderful light at the end of the tunnel."
One wellwisher offered to give him a wheelchair from a showroom, but Hyams' chair was customised for him by the manufacturer and an occupational therapist – a process that can take up to eight weeks. The chair is designed to allow him to drive his adapted van.
The chair was insured, but because the insurer may rule that the chair technically wasn't in his possession when it was stolen, he may not be able claim for it. "Essentially I would have had to have been wheelchair-jacked," he said.
But Hyams adds that as of last month the specific kind of wheelchair – a Balder F280 – is out of production, meaning that unless he gets it back he'll have to get used to life with a different chair.
Hyams is the digital and communications director for assist-Mi, a smartphone app that helps people with disabilities find accessible places and services, which is funded through Kickstarter.
Hyams, who also writes the Tiny Man blog, was a graduate production trainee at Channel 4. Until February he was an assistant producer at TV production company Sunset+Vine and worked on coverage of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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