Most parents will remember when their children grew too large or too heavy – or both -- for their stroller. For many if not most, it’s a bittersweet moment. After all, junior is growing up! The waddle soon turns to walking and then -- running. Life will never again be the same.
But what about this transition time for a special needs child? When my son grew out of his stroller and his cerebral palsy prevented him from following the “normal” process in learning how to walk, we found ourselves completely unprepared for the task of buying a wheelchair to replace his simple stroller.
We knew enough to call the insurance company. But, it was a disheartening experience. The representative informed us that what we qualified for was not even close to what our boy would really need. Negotiations ensued, our meager savings were tapped and somehow we made it all work – and learned a few lessons along the way.
Like a lot of people, we considered the purchase of the chair to be a necessary “evil” – like a tax bill or a new transmission for the family van. Looking back, I was probably a little bitter that we even needed to buy one in the first place. Though it was helping our son get around, we subconsciously resented its necessity. While other parents complained about their toddler wanting to run ahead at the mall, we only wished we had such problems. And so, the cost was just an added irritant. At the time, you never could have convinced me that a wheelchair was more a blessing than a burden.
But life has a funny way of exposing you to teachable moments.
A friend called recently and asked if my truck and I were available to help move some donated wheelchairs. I had no idea what he was talking about. I obliged and we met at a church whose basement was completely full of every kind of mobile transportation devices: Junior or child, adult, manual, electric, sport, standup and foldup – machines of every shape and kind were lined up and waiting to be moved.
I would come to discover they were part of the program called “Wheels for the World” that’s run by a remarkable woman named Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni, a quadriplegic heads up a fantastic organization entitled Joni and Friends. [Their web site is www.joniandfriends.org ] I commend them highly.
The wheelchair program is an ambitious endeavor involving mind-boggling coordination. Volunteers gather chairs from those who have either outgrown or no longer need them. The chairs are then loaded up into a 53-foot tractor trailer truck donated by Wal-Mart and shipped out to a prison in California. A prison? Incredibly, organizers have been able to foster a relationship with prison officials who utilized the inmates, and as part of their restitution, refurbish the chairs to like-new condition. Now that’s what I call time well spent!
Once the chairs are cleaned up, repaired and polished, they’re then shipped overseas and sent all around the world to the most worthy and needy individuals. A lot of effort is taken to insure they’re not just dumped on a dock or put in a warehouse. The program sends therapists and professionals to these countries to distribute the chairs to those who have no ability to get one for family members.
I’ve been thinking about this program quite often lately. I’ve also been thinking about all the gifts in my life and my family’s that we take for granted. At this stage, wheelchairs aren’t something I think much about anymore -- but for a family who is without one, the subject is likely to consume their thoughts. It’s a bit like drinking water. You’re probably not thinking about it right now. After all, if you want a drink, the tap is probably only a few steps away. But imagine if you were stranded in the desert. I guarantee you’d be thinking about it.
As I mentioned earlier, I never used to think of durable medical supplies as a blessing or something for which to be thankful. Instead, I always thought of them as a commodity – much like a car or a warm coat on a cold day. But that’s changed. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
I am grateful for this gift of mobility – and even happier to help pass along the privilege to someone in need. It’s a good thing to do.