In November 2011, Allison Tieszen ’12 and Chrissy Hauer ’12 along with Dr. Sandra Bellamy ’97, ’99, ’03participated in the Rotary International Wheelchair Distribution in Antigua, Guatemala. Tieszen and Hauer were chosen among 10 physical therapy students who applied for this unique and life changing opportunity.
For one week, the students spent their time traveling and customizing wheelchairs at Hope Haven International making it possible for 58 individuals to be mobile for the first time. Tieszen reflected on her experience working with a seven year old girl named Fatimah who suffered from cerebral palsy and has had over eight surgeries. Tieszen was able to help customize a wheelchair and walker for Fatimah to help her take her first steps.
“It is really about early interventions and making a child comfortable so we can help increase their quality of life,” said Tieszen.
Prior to the trip, Tieszen and Hauer had little experience in assembling wheelchairs but said their educational background provided them the knowledge they needed to give suggestions and provide the best fit for patients.
“There was definitely a learning curve but we were able to apply the knowledge that we received in our coursework and experience we have gained from clinicals. We were able to pull a lot of what we know and apply it to new environments to provide different services,” commented Hauer.
“It takes a lot of problem-solving skills and quick and outside-the-box thinking because there is no set manual,” added Tieszen.
Tieszen and Hauer have presented about their trip at seven local Rotary locations and once in class. They said it was through a similar presentation by former students that inspired them to participate. After spending a week with their group in Guatemala, which they said they’ve made life long connections with, Tieszen and Hauer’s ultimate goal is to inspire people and make a difference.
“I don’t look at wheelchairs the same. I have a completely different level of understanding and respect,” said Hauer. “This trip has allowed me to share a connection with Allison and Dr. Bellamy that will last for many years,” she added.
Hauer knew of Rotary through her mother-in-law but growing up in Wyoming, Tieszen had never heard of it until now. None the less, the student physical therapists are determined to make Rotary International a lifelong friendship. They hope to continue working with Rotary and stay involved so they can continue to participate in similar trips.
“Overall, we are so thankful for this opportunity and experience,” said Hauer.