The Story of the Pediatric Wheelchairs

Occasionally we are in the right place at the right time with the right people. This time, that place for me was on the phone with Brother’s Brother Foundation (BBF). The opportunity resulted in a donation of five specialized pediatric wheelchairs for St. Albert’s Mission Hospital. For me, it also led to a renewed appreciation for the work that so many individuals and organizations are doing to improve healthcare in underserved areas of the world. Here is how events unfolded.

26 October 2010

BBF held a meeting at its headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA, to lay the groundwork for potential container shipment of donated medical supplies to mission hospitals in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Liberia in 2011, and for a related reconnaissance trip to be made by BBF medical director, Dr. Chip Lambert in December.

Luke Hingson, president of BBF, had contacted Better Healthcare for Africa (BHA) for the first time the previous week to explore how BBF container shipments of requested donated equipment and supplies might help support BHA’s work in Zimbabwe. He also sought BHA’s assistance in communicating with the large Catholic healthcare mission structure in Zimbabwe, headed by Dr. Elizabeth Tarira, and which represents a significant portion of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system. As part of this, Luke had invited me to join the meeting by phone.

That is how the relationship between BHA and BBF began. BHA continues to facilitate communication between BBF and Dr. Elizabeth Tarira and Zimbabwe’s Catholic Health Commission, which oversees the 50-plus Catholic mission hospitals and clinics in Zimbabwe. BHA’s efforts did strengthened Dr. Lambert’s visit to several hospitals that December, and in March, I traveled with Luke Hingson to Zimbabwe where we spent several extremely interesting days visiting five mission hospitals to learn about their services and needs. Our four days together in Zimbabwe ended with a morning-long meeting with the Zimbabwe Association of Church-related Hospitals (ZACH), which coordinates the importation of containers shipments for its 100-plus mission hospital members.

The BBF meeting in Pittsburgh included the Zimbabwean nurse matron for Nyadire hospital, a Methodist mission hospital northeast of Harare; representatives of The Nyadire Connection, a Pittsburgh nonprofit dedicated to helping Nyadire Hospital; and Luke and Liam Carstens, International Medical Program Coordinator for BBF. Luke had invited me to attend by phone.

During the meeting, Luke mentioned that a 40-foot International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) container due to arrive in Zimbabwe on December 6 included 15 pediatric wheelchairs that were available to a hospitals that would come to Harare to pick them up. Over the phone, I requested a donation for St. Albert’s.

9 December 2011

I emailed Elizabeth and asked about the wheelchairs. She replied: “Hie, Darrell. We had a fruitful time with Dr. Chip Lambert. The wheelchairs we did not see them and where they are currently we do not know, or when we will get them. We went to the pick-up site for the handover ceremony, but there was nobody. Brothers Brother will sort it out.”

16 December 2010

Biljana Mihajlovic, gifts-in-kind coordinator for the IOCC lets us know that delivery of the container to Zimbabwe is delayed due to congestion in the port of Durban, South Africa. The carrier now expects the container to be at the Mozambique Port of Beira 15 January. After clearing customs there, it will be transported overland to Harare. The estimated time of arrival there is now late January, afterwhich it will take about two weeks for the load to clear customs. The chair will then be taken to a private clinic in Harare to await pickup. Distribution of the wheelchairs is unlikely to occur before 10 February.

18 March 2011

Biljana tells us that the wheelchairs have arrived and are awaiting pick up at St. Nectarios clinic in Harare. The distribution is schedule for 30 April to 7 May. She notes that United Cerebral Palsy Wheels for Humanity (UCPWH) is a key partner in this project, and that the wheelchairs require special training to assemble and to fit to a child. UCPWH will provide a three-hour training session on complex rehabilitation wheelchair mechanics and services for the hospital staff members picking up the wheelchairs. A two-member team from UCPWH, one of whom is a registered Certified Rehabilitation Technology Supplier (CRTS) seating specialist, will provide the training. (To learn more about CRTS certification, visit the National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers (NRRTS)).

11 May 2011

I received the following email from Elizabeth:

“St Albert’s received the beautiful wheelchairs for the needy children. We are happy because these are good chairs indeed. You have given the best the preferred of Jesus Christ, so in reality you have donated to Him. May his name be praised! With gratitude, Elizabeth”

BBF is now readying a 40-foot container of requested medical supplies for shipment to St. Albert’s Mission Hospital. Its contents have been provided by Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach, BBF and BHA. Stay tuned here to learn more about the events surrounding the assembly and shipping of this container.