During any given week, Scott Valentine, Account Manager for Sunrise Medical spends his 50-70 hours of professional time completing a list of tasks that includes: in-services and training for both suppliers and therapists on Sunrise products and staying informed of current industry state and federal reimbursement policies. Scott also participates in wheelchair clinics answering questions about his product portfolio that can lead to proper product prescriptions for end users. Being an integral member of the Sunrise Medical team for 20 years, Scott has truly embraced the company’s mission to “Improve People’s Lives.” This spring however, Scott felt the desire to take this mission a step further.
After a few discussions with two of his therapist friends he dug into his savings account and volunteered (along with his son Haydn) to join a group of individuals and support “Eleanore’s Project.” This non-profit group travels to Peru annually for two weeks where parts, seating systems, and donated manual wheelchairs are configured into safe functioning pieces of mobility equipment to be used by those who are not otherwise fortunate enough to have access to assistive technology.
I met up with Scott early in the morning for coffee a few weeks after he returned from his trip and asked him to share some details about his experience. He was eager to participate in the interview and felt that the experience was “life changing.” Here is our conversation taken from the interview.
Steve: What made you want to go?
Scott: The opportunity to configure chairs and in some cases make important add-on parts on the fly. I knew that there would be equipment made available to our team, but we had to go case-by-case and essentially fabricate parts and frames of the mobility bases on the spot. It was a real rush! The fact that the event was outside the country was going to be a very unique experience for me. I was really looking forward to the adventure.
Steve: What steps did you have to complete in preparation for your trip?
Scott: We had a “boxing day” where a group of us had to separate out all the donated parts that were sent in huge boxes to one of the therapist’s homes. We had seating parts and pieces everywhere. I was blown away by the amount of products donated from just from my local region. I had to help arrange a list of tools, fasteners, and parts for the chairs that local suppliers were able to donate and organize everything in groups so it would be easier to access them once in Peru. I also helped fabricate custom boxes to send some of the pieces of equipment to South Dakota where they would join all the other equipment from the US and then ship to both Lima and Cusco where we would be assembling the chairs. Finally, I had to make sure that I received shots for measles, mumps, rubella, and yellow fever as well as order other necessary medications that I may have needed while in Peru.
Steve: What were your first impressions upon arrival?
Scott: I was definitely in a third world country. The automobiles and streets were really small and there were lots of concrete walls under security. It was eye opening for sure. I was in an Old World Spanish stucco location. We arrived at a Catholic Church in a suburb of Lima, which also had a full medical clinic on-site as well as a school. There were six evaluation tables set up where the church pews were usually located and a side room where all the equipment was stored. We set up six work stations and our team consisted of four US therapists, one Canadian therapist, and a group of three therapists from Yancana Huasy. We also had seven Occupational Therapy students and their professor from the OT School at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was really excited to be with the group and get going!
Steve: What took place? What was an average day like?
Scott: There were three of us that made up the technical team. My son Haydn and an OT student were my partners. Day one we set up the stations. The therapists then brought in patients who had wheelchairs already assigned to them. It was great because Quickie IRIS tilt-in-space wheelchairs were the commonly donated chair and it made configuration easier since I am very familiar with those products. Once the therapist completed their evaluation, they would walk over to our “shop” and share the client’s needs with me. I had six therapists coming in asking me to shrink or grow chairs, as well as help provide all the necessary seating. It really was great teamwork since I could instruct and show the Therapists and students what would need to be done to set up the chair. I would then help get them started and everyone was willing and able to pitch in and fit the chairs. Although we had parts, this was unlike any clinic or supplier’s shop in the US where you often have the exact parts and pieces required to fix the mobility bases. We had to make things work that were way out of the norm at times. It was wild. After nine days we delivered 87 chairs with many requiring full-blown seating systems!
Steve: What was your biggest challenge?
Scott: The biggest challenge was to brainstorm ideas and make the wheelchair work for the client in a very short timeframe. One of our wildest ideas was making projection hand rims using leg rest pivot saddle parts. We also had to fabricate a set of dual post arms on a chair that had none so the young man could do pressure reliefs. This was accomplished amongst a team of dedicated individuals who could not speak each other’s language!
Steve: What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
Scott: For me it was seeing the delight on faces of the parents and the smiles from the end users. Despite the fact that most of the chairs were built with different color frame pieces and parts from several manufacturers, at the end of the day the wheelchairs worked! I was extremely pleased to be part of a team that arrived fully invested and ready to give their best efforts to aid families who traveled to our makeshift clinic. We had a tremendous group that was always willing to learn a new skill in order to improve the lives of the young men and women in need of these wheelchairs.
Steve: Would you ever do this again?
Scott: If everything works out, I will be going back next May! If anyone is interested in participating they can learn more about Eleanore’s Project at www.eleanoresproject.org. It was an amazing experience.
Tamara Kittelson-Aldred and her husband Rick started Eleanore’s Project 10 years ago in memory of their daughter who used a wheelchair for mobility and who passed away suddenly at a young age. Over the past 10 years, the organization has done fantastic work focusing on improving the lives of the children in Peru with adaptive equipment and is always looking for those who share their passion to assist by donating equipment, time, or by being an interpreter, Therapist or technician.