UTMB School of Health Professions student Susie Dezelle, left, helps adjust Emmanuel Ibarra's new wheelchair.
Just before the holidays, members of the Student Occupational Therapy Association in the School of Health Professions helped make the season a little brighter for one of their St. Vincent’s House Clinic clients.
The client, Emmanuel Ibarra, has depended on a wheelchair for mobility for more than a decade. But over the past few months, Ibarra’s only mode of transportation had not been working well and was leading to serious discomfort for him, said Susie Dezelle, a second-year student who is also the president of SOTA.
“We were exploring avenues to get him a new wheelchair from organizations already in place that donate them, but those efforts didn’t pan out,” said Dezelle. “So, we decided to raise the money on our own to buy him a new wheelchair.”
Through bake sales, a profit-sharing event at frozen yogurt shop Orange Leaf and an adaptive Olympics event in which professors competed against each other in various challenges, the students collected enough money in just six weeks.
On the last day of the fall semester, the students—including one dressed as Santa—surprised Ibarra with his new wheelchair, which had been decked out beforehand with colorful streamers to mark the occasion.
“It means so much to me,” Ibarra said a few minutes after sitting in his new wheelchair for the first time. “I will be more comfortable now, and I’m so thankful.”
Karen Aranha, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, said students who had worked with Ibarra at St. Vincent’s recognized the need for his wheelchair during the course of his treatment there. St. Vincent’s is a student-run clinic operated in partnership with UTMB that provides medical care to those in the Galveston community who lack medical benefits and might otherwise go without treatment.
For Patricia Fingerhut, PhD, associate professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, the students’ initiative in replacing Ibarra’s wheelchair is testament to their dedication and their passion in caring for others.
“It’s very impressive what they’ve done,” Fingerhut said. “They’re very dedicated students who are here in a very intensive program so their time outside of class and studying is very, very limited. Yet they have taken on all of these projects and are really exemplifying what we’re trying to teach them.
“They’re seeing their clients as people, most importantly, and not as a condition. They’re looking at changing the quality of life for others, and I’m proud of them.”