Two years ago, while boarding a bus in the Costa Rican town of Alajuela, Francisco Javier (pictured at right in his first power chair) faltered. The 58-year-old was pushing his wheelchair up the bus’s ramp, but without arm rails or anyone to assist him he fell back, hitting his head hard on the street below. He suffered serious injuries, which even after multiple surgeries resulted in permanent lost vision in his left eye.
Though Francisco, who contracted polio when he was 1 year old, has been using a manual wheelchair for the last eight years, after his accident he found it more difficult to push himself around Alajuela. He had once worked as a salesman on the street, but he now found himself unable to run errands or meet friends as regularly as he had in the past. “From my house to the supermarket and the other shops it’s about 500 meters, and to push a wheelchair is very tiring,” Francisco said. “That also affects my sight; I get tired easily.”
Knowing that a power wheelchair would enable him to regain some of his past independence, Francisco researched the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation on the internet and wrote a letter pleading for help. “I had faith that I could get a wheelchair,” he said.
In October, after receiving Francisco’s request, Carlos Caprioli, Information Specialist for the Reeve Foundation, contacted UCP Wheels for Humanity (UCPWFH), which agreed to provide a donated power wheelchair for Francisco during its next wheelchair distribution in Costa Rica.
UCP Wheels for Humanity, a North Hollywood, California-based nonprofit organization, has been providing wheelchairs to developing countries around the world since 1996. UCPWFH’s volunteer teams of professional wheelchair seating specialists, including occupational and physical therapists, accompany UCPWFH on each distribution worldwide to ensure that every piece of equipment provided is custom-fitted to each individual.
The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has been supporting UCPWFH’s international programs since 2000, connecting countless others like Francisco with wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Shortly after Francisco contacted the Reeve Foundation, one of UCPWFH’s 40-foot ocean containers (pictured at left) filled with nearly 200 wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and physical therapy equipment was bound for Costa Rica.
Six weeks later, a UCPWFH team arrived in Alajuela to fit the equipment to more than 185 children and adults with disabilities. Francisco received his refurbished Quickie P110 power wheelchair on Tuesday, November 22, and was already imagining all the ways it would improve his life.
Photo: UCP Wheels for Humanity volunteer CRTS Michael Banks fitting Francisco into his first power chair.
“Now I can run errands, and I don’t need anyone to help me up the bus ramp anymore,” he said. But, he added with a grin, he would mostly use his power wheelchair to go to the central park in Alajuela, where he and his other retired friends in the area meet almost everyday to gossip and talk soccer. Francisco was already discussing with his brother, Ignacio, when his favorite team, La Liga, would be playing next and where they would go to watch the game.
The impact on his independence, and social life, was immediate, he said. “There are so many people in my country in need of wheelchairs — I have a friend who tried to get a wheelchair but couldn’t,” Francisco said. “So I am very, very grateful, and would like to thank the Reeve Foundation and UCPWFH for all the great work they are doing, not just in Costa Rica, but all around the world.”
Getting the right wheelchairSubmitted by: Katherine Selengia - Program Associate - UCP Wheels for Humanity