Big Wheels Keep on Turnin'
Wheelchair Seating staff participate in UCP Wheels for Humanity
This past spring, rehabilitation engineers Cory Wernimont, A.T.S., M.P.T., and Mike Barner, A.T.S., C.R.T.S., spent their vacation time in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. Instead of soaking up the sun, however, they were busy volunteering for UCP Wheels for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that refurbishes donated wheelchairs and hand fits them to children and adults with disabilities in developing nations.
Over a four-day period, Wernimont and Barner, who work for U-M Wheelchair Seating Services, properly fitted about 90 children and adults, ages 3 to 65, with wheelchairs. No longer would the men and women have to pull themselves along the ground or, in the case of the children, be carried on their mothers’ backs.
The pair got the idea from coworker Chris Savoie, A.T.S., C.R.T.S., a rehabilitation engineer who delivered 167 wheelchairs to adults and children in Vietnam in 2002. Savoie spent 10 days in Saigon and Danang, fitting about 100 children— a third of whom were amputees due to land mines, according to Savoie.
During these trips, the volunteer rehabilitation engineers trained other physical therapists in proper wheelchair seating techniques and left tools, equipment and wheelchairs behind for future use. They also used their own vacation time, paid for their own airfare and meals, and donated equipment they bought specially for the trip.
Like Savoie, Barner and Wernimont would love to go back. For now, though, they have their eyes on another prize—working with California-based UCP Wheels for Humanity and its partner FedEx to find a way to bring a semi to Ann Arbor to transport donations of used wheelchairs and equipment from Michigan staff, families and suppliers back to the West Coast.
“That,” Wernimont says, “will be a thing of beauty.”
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