Giving Back in Guatemala

I've been a physical therapist for nearly 17 years, with the first seven years of my career providing direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist. I went to work for Sunrise Medical as a sales representative in the Los Angeles area in early 2008, and shortly thereafter I transitioned to become a clinical rehab manager with Sunrise Medical. Although I was in the field working with end-users, the one-on-one nature of my role had changed dramatically.

As my professional goals have changed and my career has evolved and progressed, I've moved further away from direct patient care. Even though I have a greater impact on more people in my current role, providing direct patient care is something I sorely miss. After all, this is the reason I chose physical therapy as a profession in the first place. Those innate altruistic characteristics have never left me. Having an immediate and positive influence on someone's life is extremely impactful. The energy and immediate feedback I receive from direct patient care is difficult to replace in my current role, so finding something I can do that provides me with that same feeling has been my mission.

Matt Fetter helping a young Guatemalan

Fortunately in 2015 I was introduced to a group called Bethel Ministries International, which works as an interdenominational non-profit wheelchair ministry and provides assistance to the people of Guatemala with mobility needs. There was one story in particular that really tore at my heartstrings and served not only as a great example of the dire situations we come across, but also allowed me to fully understand how my presence in Guatemala could have such an extraordinary impact on someone's life.

I was told a story of the culture and history of the people of Guatemala and the pride they have in their country. Part of that pride comes from the ability to work and physically contribute to their respective households. Very young men are often expected to work long hours on the family farms or are sent off to work in the fields as manual laborers, while some will collect bottles and newspapers to recycle for profit. There are a myriad of labor-based jobs a young Guatemalan boy may find himself doing. Unfortunately, education is not always an option for the youth in Guatemala. If for one reason or another someone is not capable of earning money, they are considered a burden to the family. Not only can they not generate income for their families, but there is an additional cost to raise a child with a disability. When money is tight, it's not uncommon for a family to "discard" their disabled child. This was evidenced by the little boy pictured below.

The town dump is where the most impoverished will go to seek scraps of food to satiate their hunger. This is incredibly sad as you can imagine. However, this little boy was discarded by his mother in the town dump and left for dead. With an apparent diagnosis of severe cerebral palsy, the mother could not care for her child. While rummaging for food in the town dump, an older homeless lady stumbled across this little boy who was near death. He was obviously quite disabled but it dawned on her that perhaps she should bring this boy to town and see what could be done to help him.

The little boy was transported to a village doctor, then on to a larger hospital in Guatemala City where he was treated for starvation and dehydration. Miraculously, he slowly recovered and was eventually placed into one of the orphanages Bathel Ministries International serves (ANINI Orphanage of Guatemala City). After hearing his story, I was determined to meet this little boy. Well, last year I was able to meet him for the first time. He was provided a stroller in 2015 when our team was last down there, and this year we were able to make growth modifications to the chair he was issued last year. Although severely disabled, he is aware of his surroundings and able to communicate basic needs. He's also able to smile, which is the most fulfilling thing to me personally.

Matt Fetter helping a young Guatemalan

For the past two years, I have made the journey to Guatemala for a week in October where I have participated in wheelchair fittings & distributions along with repair & modification clinics for folks with the greatest need and smallest of resources. For this short period of time I am able to have an immediate and positive influence on someone's life like I once did. I have been very blessed in my life and I am very thankful for the opportunities I have had. Giving back is something I feel strongly about, but being able to do so in this capacity is truly icing on the cake.

About the Author

Matt Fetter

Matt was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and moved to Dallas, TX about a year and a half ago. He is a Regional Sales Director for Sunrise Medical as well as an Assistive Technology Professional. He enjoys distance running, playing golf, and spending time at the lake with his French bulldog, Rex, when the Texas weather permits.

Most of the stories here on Live Quickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 12/5/2017 12:00:00 AM

Steve Taylor
I have been working with Jason for quite a few years and he is a great guy. He works with the VA here in Colorado. Sunrise is one of our favorite companies to use.
12/10/2017 5:16:36 PM
Steve Taylor
It would be so great if I could go with you for myself for I am in a wheelchair my self since 2004 when I came back from Iraq. Now I have been volunteering with the VA for about 6 years now I am working in the Wheelchair dept. I build wheelchairs for the Veteran's
12/5/2017 5:18:51 PM

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