Mont Alto professor distributes wheelchairs in Vietnam

March 25, 1999

Wheelchairs for VietnamBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

MONT ALTO, Pa. - A video taken in Vietnam in January by a Penn State Mont Alto professor shows the hardships faced by some of the disabled people there.

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Thomas Glumac, director of the Physical Therapist Assistant Program on the Mont Alto campus, and student Karen Baldwin joined a group of 24 Americans on a mercy mission to the Southeast Asian country.

They talked about their experiences to about 50 students and teachers Wednesday afternoon.

Glumac said the Americans went to Vietnam to hand out 500 wheelchairs to people who have been permanently disabled by disease, genetic disorders, neglect and land mines.


Some had no legs; others had withered, twisted limbs. According to Glumac's video, some get around by crawling on their hands. Others propel themselves by picking up each foot in turn and moving it in front of the other. Some wore sandals on their hands and dragged themselves along the ground.

"That's the only way they can move," Glumac said. "You can't know what a wheelchair means to these people, to be off the ground or off the back of a relative for the first time."

Some were old, many were young, some were children. Many traveled for miles to get to the hospitals and clinics where the Americans waited with the wheelchairs.

Vietnamese medical officials chose the recipients. Some who came for chairs without the proper paperwork were turned away, Glumac said.

"It broke our hearts, but there was nothing we could do for them," he said.

The wheelchairs were donated by Hope Haven International Ministries of Rock Valley, Iowa. The mission collects and repairs used wheelchairs and sends them to people in Third World countries.

The January visit was the second to Vietnam for Glumac. He was there for the first time in July. He learned of Hope Haven's wheelchair program while on a medical mission to Ecuador in 1997.

Glumac and Baldwin each paid $1,500 in travel expenses, including plane fare, meals and lodging. He invited all of his students to go, but only Baldwin signed up.

Among the 24 Americans were physicians, physical therapist and some handymen who helped to fit the wheelchairs to individual needs, Glumac said. The team was organized by Hope Haven.

He said Hope Haven has many wheelchairs available but can't always afford to ship them. "Transportation is very expensive. They go by sea container. Each wheelchair is put into a separate box. Crutches, walkers and eyeglasses are jammed into the boxes with them to save shipping costs."

The team gave out wheelchairs in three cities including Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa and Pleiku.

Glumac and Baldwin said the Americans were well-received by the Vietnamese people, who seemed to harbor little ill will because of the war.

"Whenever they saw us they would hold up their thumbs and say 'America, Number One,'" Baldwin said.

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