Right before I began working at Active Family Healthcare, my husband Tim (a flight nurse for Life Flight Network) and I went on a wilderness medicine & medical mission trip to Guatemala. In the evening we learned about treating people in the wilderness with little to no resources. I am better-prepared to assist my family or others out on the hiking trail who have had an unfortunate accident. During the day we worked on a wheelchair donation project. Each member of the trip (all American medical professionals – nurses, nurse practitioner, physicians, physical assistant) paid for wheelchairs for local people in need (many of whom traveled hours or days to get to our donation site). This was certainly the most meaningful experience of our trip.

We toured a wheelchair manufacturing facility and met the wonderful staff, many of whom volunteer their time to help their fellow Guatemalan’s who cannot walk.  Then we worked alongside the staff to build the wheelchairs for both adults and children, custom to each person’s specific needs.  As medical professionals, we could anticipate the physical needs of the disabled Guatemalan and customize the wheelchair to their underlying medical condition.  

Here is a picture of 6 of us from the medical mission group and the staff of the wheelchair manufacturing facility, most of whom are wheelchair-bound themselves. 

For example, one child, Brian, who has multiple sclerosis, does not have the muscular strength or torso control to hold himself upright, so we fashioned a harness to keep him safely seated in the chair. The chair will allow him to sit upright whereas he had previously only known the world from a mostly lying position. Here is a picture of Brian in his new chair with his special harness.

Another child, Jonathan attends school with the other 8 year-old children, but he has muscular dystrophy, cannot walk, and has to be carried everywhere. Jonathan will now be able to keep up with the other kids when playing.  This is a picture of Jonathan as he looks on us putting the finishing touches on his wheelchair. Tim is helping Jonathan’s parents learn how to adjust the wheelchair for Jonathan’s growth. And then Jonathan in his new chair.

This picture is me, Tim, and the mother with her 9 year-old son who also needed a custom harness to support his torso. His mother has carried him everywhere since he was born. She was thrilled at the freedom she will have to care for her other 4 children, now that her son has a wheelchair. 

And this is an older Guatemalan man who was very pleased to be able to get around more easily despite his leg amputation.

We helped build and donate around 50 wheelchairs. The appreciation of the Guatemala people was truly moving. We received many handshakes, hugs, homemade meals, and homemade cards showing gratitude. Their daily struggles for food and shelter are something we take for granted in the US. A wheelchair seems like so little in the States. But to these families it means independence and better health. And while we may see their situation as full of hardships, they are filled with hope and love. While I went on the trip to serve others, I think the greatest gift was what I received in return.
I am not sure if these are the sort of pictures and stories you are hoping for. I am probably a better nurse practitioner than a motivational story-teller ;-). As the one taking pictures, I am not in very many of them. If you need, I can reach out to the others in our medical mission group and see if they have some of me in the shot too. Lastly, here is a photo of my husband, Tim and I preparing to return to the states, after a rewarding experience. 

Robin Beard is an experienced and compassionate Nurse Practitioner at Active Family Healthcare. She is currently taking new patients.