Saturday, May 23, 2009

Canadian gifts help mobilize the disabled

Crippled when she fell from a building 15 years ago, Ratchapon Deesala receives a gel cushion and a much-needed replacement wheelchair. Ratchapon lives with family in the community.
By Bernie McKenzie-Brown

For most of us, it is a simple matter to get out of bed and get ready to take on the day. Spare a thought, though, for those who can’t get out of bed because they are quadriplegic. Spare another for those who can’t get out because they need help dressing and getting into their wheelchairs. Then there are the men and women who need colostomy bags changed or urinary catheters replaced before their days can begin. This is reality for many disabled adults. For a fortunate few, life has begun to improve.

Last week physically handicapped patients and staff at McKean Hospital couldn’t hide their excitement and pure joy as medical equipment and other items started to arrive. The day’s delivery included two modified beds – one for a quadriplegic and one for a paraplegic – as well as a dozen new wheelchairs and 15 gel cushions.

This Canadian-funded initiative is helping transform life for young and severely disabled adults who live at Chiang Mai’s McKean Rehabilitation Centre. The 720,000-baht project has begun to provide help for 13 extended-stay rehabilitation patients and for outpatient clients who live in their community. Their ages range from about 16 to 42. Some have suffered since birth; others are often victims of motorcycle and industrial accidents.

Those who live at McKean share accommodation in tiny one-bedroom bungalows. All suffer from debilitating handicaps. They desperately need equipment and such aides for daily living as wheelchairs, braces, and prosthetics to make their lives more comfortable. Unfortunately, this equipment is too expensive for their families to afford. The hospital delivers good care in a caring environment, but it, too, is constrained by budgets.

An initiative of the Rotary Club of Chiang Mai West, the McKean Disabled Project’s main aim is to make it easier for the disabled to move about. In addition to purchasing high-quality wheelchairs, the Canadian project has provided funds for the purchase of motorcycles, which will be modified for use by wheelchair-bound patients. The project has also modified regular bicycles into tricycles propelled by hand.

The project has other aims, one of which is to help patients deal with painful bed sores. This terrible condition develops in those confined to beds or even wheelchairs. To manage this condition, the project has funded the purchase of gel cushions.

McKean’s residents show off new equipment and supplies, from hand-driven bicycles to gel cushions.

Funding began with a grant from the Rotary Club of Calgary Centennial. Several Canadians also made personal cash gifts. These sums were then matched by The Wild Rose Foundation, a funding agency sponsored by the government of Alberta (a Canadian province). This agency, which promotes charitable, philanthropic, humanitarian, and public spirited acts, thus provided the single largest contribution to the project. These sums were topped up by The Rotary Foundation, taking total contributions to the budgeted amount of 720,000 baht. The involvement of several branches of the global Rotary organization is tribute to the far-reaching philanthropy of the world’s largest service organization.

McKean Hospital has been serving the people of Northern Thailand for a century. It was established by a humanitarian missionary surgeon, James McKean, in response to the plight of those with leprosy in Chiang Mai. Still the centre for leprosy treatment in northern Thailand, today McKean also operates a program of extended general rehabilitation programs to treat the disabled. McKean Hospital’s disabled patients include those who live at the facility full-time; those receiving short-term treatment; and outpatients.

For some people, the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning is no simple matter. For some who live with this simple truth, simple generosity is bringing hope and the gift of greater mobility.
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