In October, five doctor of physical therapy students traveled to Mexico to help distribute wheelchairs. The trip continued the rich tradition of Pacific’s Department of Physical Therapy partnering with Rotary International and Hope Haven West, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing mobility in the developing world.
Wendy Auyoung ’19, Ramon Chavez III ’19, Allison Daby ’19, Allison Snider ’19, Mari Takahashi ’19 and Cathy Peterson, PT, EdD, ATP, department chair and professor of physical therapy, joined Lonny Davis, founder of Hope Haven West. Completing the team were eight Rotary members.
In Mexico, the team worked with Rotary members from local chapters. “The Rotarians were so hospitable,” said Auyoung. “They were so excited for us to come and distribute wheelchairs to people in that area.” The team distributed 340 wheelchairs in seven days in Veracruz City and Coatepec, Mexico.
Wheelchair recipients were pre-selected, on average, a year in advance and chosen based on need. One of the interactions that deeply impacted Snider was a 40-year-old male with a spinal cord injury due to a car accident. “This was his first wheelchair and his accident happened 13 years ago,” Snider said.
Takahashi will never forget the experience of customizing a wheelchair for a 13-year-old boy with osteogenesis imperfecta, an inherited disease where one’s bones are weak or extremely fragile. She explained that the disease had only affected his lower extremities. “I was able to provide a wheelchair that fit him perfectly,” Takahashi said. “He was so happy. He couldn’t stop talking about how excited he was to go back to school, play with his friends and explore the world.”
One recipient that made a lasting impression on Auyoung was a 25-year-old male with cerebral palsy and severe scoliosis. She worked with Dr. Peterson for five hours to customize a wheelchair that would allow him to sit upright. “We constructed this rod-like contraption with a cushioned headrest,” Auyoung said. “We fit him ever so perfectly in the wheelchair so that when the words printed on his shirt, which before had been pointed at his left hip, were completely horizontal. He could literally see the world from a different perspective.”
For Snider and Takahashi this was their first time traveling outside the United States. Snider shared, “I am beyond thankful for this opportunity to put service before myself. I am truly humbled to have had this experience.”
Each of the five students reflected on how this trip impacted their outlook on physical therapy. Auyoung captured their experience overall. She said, “This trip has been such a valuable experience with unforgettable memories with my team members and classmates. I will bring these skills into my profession as a physical therapist.”
Daby shared how the trip changed how she views her role as a student. “The scores that we receive on exams don’t dictate who we are, it’s what we do with this knowledge that can really change us and allow us to change the world,” she said. “What we do with what we have is what matters.” She added, “I encourage everyone to seek out an opportunity like this; an opportunity to make a trip more than just a trip and help you find your sense of purpose.”
Five DPT students represented Pacific.
The team distributed 340 wheelchairs in seven days. Each recipient was given a refurbished wheelchair or a Hope Haven West pediatric wheelchair that was specifically customized for them, a process that took between 30 minutes and 5 hours.
The Veracruz/Coatepec trip marked the 60th Hope Haven West wheelchair distribution.
To date, Hope Haven West has distributed 12,000 wheelchairs.
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold