Reporter's notebook

Sunday, January 23, 2011

People put tennis balls on their walkers all the time so they can slide their walker along the ground more easily. There’s only one problem: Tennis balls stuck to the legs of a walker look cheap and unattractive. That’s hardly the face of HME that the industry should be presenting to the public, said Sue Chen.

“It is such a disrespect that we are putting something on there to serve the most important part of your health—your mobility—that collects dirt, urine, feces, everything that is on the ground, drags it around and people make fun of it,” said Chen, the CEO of Nova, which manufactures, among other things, canes, rolling walkers, bath safety items and other products.

Feces. Urine. Dirt. Yuck. How do you spell HME? Not like this, I hope.

The solution, Chen told me, is simple: Replace tennis balls with walker skis.

Chen’s on a mission to do that. Nova has created the “Lose the Tennis Balls” campaign, which includes a $1,000 prize for the best photo or video of a person removing tennis balls from their walker. Sure, Chen admits, she wants to sell more walker skis, but the issue is deeper than that: It’s about enhancing a person’s dignity and changing how they think about mobility.

I know that recently when I saw my 79-year-old aunt shuffling around with a walker equipped with tennis balls the word farthest from my mind was “dignity.” She looked like a bag lady. I’m not endorsing Chen’s product. Just replace those crappy tennis balls with something safe and effective. The HME industry can and should do a lot better.

“Grandma should be hot, and Grandpa should be cool—not barely getting around in an awful looking walker with disgusting tennis balls,” Chen said. “They deserve better. That, to me, has to change.”

If you’d like to learn more about the contest, go to Nova’s website,