Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
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January 9, 2012
Service Members Build Wheelchairs For Guatemalan Children
Lt. Matthew Comer, High Speed Vessel-Southern Partnership Station Public Affairs
ANTIGUA, Guatemala -- Service members from High Speed Vessel (HSV) 2 Swift assembled customized wheelchairs with students from California State University at Northridge for Guatemalan children at Hope Haven in Antigua, Guatemala during HSV-Southern Partnership Station 2012 (HSV-SPS 12), Jan. 5.
Nine Army, Navy and Air Force service members assisted the Northridge physical therapy graduate students and Hope Haven employees assemble and customize 17 wheelchairs.
Hope Haven Guatemala is a three year-old facility that builds and customizes wheelchairs to be distributed throughout Central America. The facility receives donated supplies and builds and distributes approximately 100 wheelchairs every month. Twenty-eight pallets of donated wheelchair supplies were delivered by Swift as part of Project Handclasp, upon arrival in Guatemala, Jan. 3.
"You can't put children in adult foldable wheelchairs," said Dr. Sheryl Low, professor of physical therapy at Northridge. "Seating patients correctly is especially important in children because they can develop scoliosis and spinal deformities."
The Northridge physical therapy students measured the children and discussed possible diagnoses before deciding on the correct wheelchair for the patient. The patients were fitted to their new wheelchairs and service members helped make the appropriate adjustments to ensure comfort, posture and mobility.
"You could see an immediate difference in the posture and demeanor of the children when they were correctly fitted in the wheelchair," said Cmdr. Garry Wright, HSV-SPS 12 mission commander. "When you see a child's life change this much, you realize the impact of the partnerships we are making."
After the children had been fitted to their chairs, workers at Hope Haven spent time working with the families discussing home-therapy techniques and proper wheelchair care.
"Receiving a wheelchair will change the lives of the entire family," said Ilsy Caballeros, physical and occupational therapist at Hope Haven. "Last week, I met a family that said they went to the rodeo with their children. They wouldn't have been able to do that before the wheelchairs."
During the lunch-break Hope Haven staff invited service members to play a game of wheelchair basketball. The service members were provided wheelchairs and taught how to maneuver.
"It was a lot more difficult to play than it looks," said Sgt. 1st Class Alan Owens, U.S. Army Combat Cameramen assigned to HSV-SPS 12. "It really put everything into perspective and it shows you the difference mobility can make in your life."
Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that accepts and transports educational, humanitarian and goodwill material donated by America's private sector on a space-available basis aboard U.S. Navy ships for distribution to foreign nation recipients.
Swift Arrived in Guatemala Jan. 3 for an 11-day partnership-building visit. More than 100 service members and civilians aboard Swift are working with host-nation counterparts in a series of subject-matter-expert-exchanges focusing on medical, veterinary, security, construction, and small-unit leadership techniques and procedures.
Southern Partnership Station is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) area of responsibility in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The mission's primary goal is information sharing with partner nation service members and civilians in the region.
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