Nonprofit group Ability Found gives gift of freedom

"Crazy, cosmic stuff" • Donations seem to appear just when they are needed most.
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Michael Workman isn't a magician, but he sees magic happen every day.

As a physical therapist and equipment director at Ability Found, Workman has the task of finding the right wheelchair or equipment for those with special needs who lack the resources to pay for the equipment.

During the economic downturn, requests have almost tripled at Ability Found, a nonprofit organization with the goal of providing assistance to disabled individuals and their families. Yet Workman has the uncanny ability to fill the requests. A family will ask for a specific wheelchair he hasn't seen in months, and, without fail, a donation will come in the next day to fill the need.

"There's a lot of crazy, cosmic stuff that goes on," Workman said. "I could give you countless stories like that. It never fails — people just always seem to come through."

Tyson Hansen's is one of those remarkable stories.

Tyson was diagnosed with the terminal disease leukodystrophy at age 2. Doctors gave him seven years to live. It wasn't until last year that Tyson's mother, Melanie, learned her son would live a much longer life — the prior diagnosis was wrong. Instead, Tyson had a nonfatal condition called bilateral frontoparietal polymicrogyria.

Melanie Hansen went from euphoria to uncertainty. She would need to begin preparing for Tyson's life instead of his death.

"I grieved as he grew, and helped him get around by carrying him his entire life," Melanie Hansen said. "Our insurance wouldn't cover assistive equipment, and I had no idea where to turn for help."

Melanie Hansen called Workman in a daze. Tyson would soon outgrow his manual chair and now would need greater assistance. Workman felt Tyson would benefit from the freedom of a power chair. Magically, one had recently arrived.

"It just fit him like a glove," Workman said. "I threw him in it and he looked great. I hardly had to adjust it, the fit was that perfect."

"He loved that thing," Workman added. "He just took off — he had an absolute ball."

Melanie Hansen still had no way to transport the heavy chair into the family's SUV, limiting Tyson to trips through the neighborhood.

Cosmic forces were at work again this summer, when Ability Found received a donated lift. Tyson was the first person Workman thought of.

The lift fit perfectly — and suddenly the sky was the limit for Tyson. Still, with the lift newly installed, Workman asked Tyson, of all the places in the world, where he wanted to go. Tyson said he wanted to go drive around at Wal-Mart.

"I'm thinking Disneyland, I'm thinking of all the places a kid would want to go," Workman said, "and I realize this kid hasn't even had the freedom just to go to the store. He could go shopping with his mom without being pushed. It really hit home to me, the everyday freedom he has now."

Workman gives a lot of credit to the small donations he gets every year, from those who donate as little as $20 as well as those who think of the people they can help with an old wheelchair after a loved one passes away. In 2011, Ability Found was able to donate 92 percent of its $1.2 million income to charitable purposes.

"I would still be carrying Tyson around in my arms and he wouldn't have the independence like most teenage boys do without the help of Ability Found," Melanie Hansen said.

Twitter: @sltribWest —

At a glance

Ability Found was founded by Ernest and Anneke Robison in 1993, a tribute to their son Matthew, who passed away in 1999.

Michael Workman has more than 15 years of experience in physical therapy and works with Ability Found through his practice, Professional Therapies.

To learn more about the many ways to offer help and donations, visit