Karen’s independent life despite severe obesity

  • 8. July 2024
  • Reading time: 8 min.

Table of Contents

Karen’s story of living with severe obesity

Karen, a 68-year-old from Canberra, Australia, lives alone and has been battling severe obesity for years. Her condition is compounded by chronic pain from spondylosis (a degenerative spinal condition), a herniated disc, and arthritis in her right hip. These issues cause daily pain in her lower back, hip, and tailbone, making walking and standing difficult. Additionally, Karen suffers from a lung disease that causes shortness of breath.

The introduction of a VELA Tango 310 Chair has significantly improved Karen’s quality of life. She reports that the chair has transformed her perception of her body and daily routine, aligning perfectly with her activity level.

I never experience pain when sitting in the VELA Chair, which has changed my social life. I have regained my independence.”

How Karen navigates her daily life while severely overweight

Karen uses crutches or furniture for support as she moves around her home, able to travel only short distances and stand for limited periods. For longer distances inside her home, she relies on a bariatric electric wheelchair, which can be problematic in tight spaces, particularly in the kitchen.

Previously, accessing the bathroom was difficult because the large and heavy bariatric electric wheelchair could not fit through the doorway. This limitation greatly restricted her mobility and caused pain and uncertainty. However, with the VELA Chair, this problem has been resolved.

The simple act of being able to make a cup of tea or coffee is very freeing. It has changed my emotional and mental state. It changes everything just to have the freedom to do something as simple as that.”

Understanding severe obesity

Severe obesity can detrimentally affect breathing and lung function. Excess fat around the abdomen and back can hinder chest expansion and impact the muscles that assist in breathing. This can lead to rapid, shallow breathing and increase the risk of respiratory diseases, especially if fat is stored around the abdomen and back.1

Body mass index (BMI) is a common tool used to determine if a person is severely obese.2

Health complications associated with severe obesity
Severe obesity can lead to a variety of health issues.3,4,5
Some of these include:

  • Cardiovascular diseases (heart diseases)
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Breathing problems
  • Osteoarthritis, particularly in the hips and knees
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Pain and reduced physical function

A chair specifically designed for this purpose

Karen has a history of falls. She previously tried using a standard office chair to move around her home but found it unsuitable for her needs and not fit for purpose.

A regular office chair is not designed for bariatric use, as she often found herself pushed to the edge of the seat, increasing the risk of falling, especially if she lost her footing or if a wheel got caught on the edge of a carpet.

The lack of an easily operable brake was another issue. Karen had to rely on nearby furniture for support to prevent the chair from rolling away and causing a fall, a significant risk since she cannot get up on her own if she falls.

How the VELA Chair supports individuals with severe obesity

Body positions significantly influence lung function, and for individuals with severe obesity, the correct body position can enhance lung performance. The way one sits or lies down directly affects the mobility of the chest and the muscles used for breathing.

Research has demonstrated how severe obesity and various body positions impact chest volume, lung function, and respiratory muscle strength. For bedridden individuals with severe obesity, lung function improves when they move to a seated position. The findings indicate that sitting, both with and without back support, offers the greatest enhancements in lung function, total chest volume, and respiratory muscle strength.

Lying down causes the most significant reduction in chest volume, lung function, and respiratory muscle strength. Therefore, sitting up is crucial as a method to prevent and manage breathing difficulties in individuals with severe obesity.1

In this context, the VELA Chair can be an ideal solution and aid for a person who is severely overweight, as it provides freedom of movement and proper positioning for those with mobility limitations and breathing issues.

Karen’s renewed independence

Karen spends 90% of her time in her armchair. Before she got her VELA Chair, she was reliant on personal assistants to move around the house.

For the past 6-7 years, she depended on self-paid home care for household chores and cooking. This is no longer necessary, as the VELA Chair allows her to independently navigate her kitchen and prepare a cup of coffee or tea whenever she pleases.

Karen, who loves socialising and hosting guests, finds it much easier now that she can handle everyday tasks without assistance.

The VELA Chair has been an absolute gift from God!

Since getting the VELA Chair, Karen has managed to reduce her reliance on self-paid home help by half. Now, she only requires assistance with house cleaning and gardening.

Karen is thrilled with the increased mobility her VELA Chair provides and proudly refers to herself as a “speed hawk.” Additionally, she hasn’t needed to make any modifications to her home for the work chair, which would have been necessary to achieve the same level of independence with an electric wheelchair.

Enhanced freedom and independence for severely overweight individuals

The VELA Chair enables severely overweight individuals to maintain their independence and freedom at home. It facilitates daily activities that might otherwise be difficult due to one’s size and potential health complications.

For those experiencing shortness of breath, which can cause dizziness and discomfort, the VELA Chair can help alleviate breathing difficulties and support an active lifestyle. Additionally, the chair offers relief for individuals suffering from pain in the knees, hips, and lower back.

The primary purpose of the chair is to reduce uncertainty and the risk of falls during physical activities. Often, this uncertainty leads to caution, resulting in decreased physical activity, which can exacerbate symptoms and related conditions. Therefore, the VELA Chair can be a vital aid for those who are severely overweight.

VELA Chairs for severe obesity


1 Total and Compartmental Chest Wall Volumes, Lung Function, and Respiratory Muscle Strength in Individuals with Abdominal Obesity: Effects of Body Positions 2019. Rattanaporn Sonpeayung et al.

2 https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/obesity

3 https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/obesity

4 www.cdc.gov

5 https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/overweight-and-obesity/symptoms