Today is Tuesday and our work day was shortened because several recipients who were scheduled did not arrive as planned. This gave us a chance for some much needed rest as we face three more intense days this week. After attending a meeting with several professionals from disability organizations last night, I have a different understanding of why children sometimes miss their appointment days with us. One social worker described her frustration that it can take 2-3 years for a child to finally receive a wheelchair. The child’s name is on a list and we have a referral form with the necessary information, but poverty stricken parents migrate around looking for work. When it is time to schedule an appointment day for our wheelchair clinic, the family cannot be found. Others simply cannot afford the travel costs. For those who can find the money to come it can be a rather daunting journey; anywhere from 4-12 hours on a bus, carrying a child (perhaps quite large) who cannot walk and very possibly cannot even sit up alone. This is not for the faint of heart and I have such respect for the many families who make these journeys. In comparison, our lives at home are very easy indeed.
Getting to know Helieth was the highlight of my day. She is 17 years old, and I was told that she just needed a “transport chair”. This would be a simple wheelchair for someone to push in order to take her places – in this case, school. Helieth suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of 12; she can walk for short distances with the assistance of her parents and she has no use of her left hand. Helieth waited in the courtyard all morning before I was able to bring her into the clinic. We had chosen a nice chair for her but as we worked on some adjustments, Sammie suddenly remembered a one arm drive wheelchair that had been stored away. If it fit Helieth, it could give her the chance to be mobile without any help – as any 17 year old would want to be. Sammie and I climbed over wheelchairs and boxes to extricate the one arm drive chair and amazingly, it was a good size with the drive wheel on the correct side. We showed it to Helieth, demonstrating how it worked, and she clearly was ready to leap into it immediately!
It took a bit more work to make it fit her properly and then the excitement began. I showed her how to use the double hand rim that would allow her to go straight and turn both ways with one hand, and she was off! A smile played around her serious face as she experimented with the drive mechanism and she giggled a little when she ran into tools and bumped a little girl who was sitting in her own new chair. Within 10 minutes Helieth was moving around with good control of the wheelchair as her father looked on proudly with a smile. We were told that she was really nervous about coming to our clinic today, and I am pretty sure that she never expected to leave under her own power – but she did. It was wonderful to see.