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Physical therapist provides wheelchairs to the needy

February 18, 2001

Physical therapist provides wheelchairs to the needy



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


MONT ALTO, Pa. - In the last four years, Tom Glumac has helped thousands of people around the world gain the freedom that only a set of wheels can provide.

But the Penn State Mont Alto physical therapy professor isn't talking about cars or even bicycles - his interest is in wheelchairs.

A Dillsburg, Pa., resident, Glumac has taken at least a half-dozen trips since 1997 with organizations that donate wheelchairs to disabled children and adults with polio, leprosy and paraplegia. Many of them have to travel on the backs of family or friends to receive a chair.

Glumac's first trip was to Ecuador through Hope Haven International where a team of dentists, doctors, optometrists and physical therapists worked with the Quecha Indians for two weeks.

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The humanitarian work whetted his appetite for future trips, and Glumac has since visited Vietnam, Columbia and in January to the Gaza Strip.

"Since that first trip, most of the trips have had a wheelchair emphasis," he said. "A number of wheelchairs are sent over and then a team fits wheelchairs and supplies technical expertise."

The wheelchairs are a mix of new and old, but even the used ones are refurbished.

"In some cases there are people waiting for more than a year for these chairs," he said. "It's typical when we get there to have a long line of a couple hundred people who have been waiting for hours."

The recipients are all referred by human service agencies in the countries.

"Some have always relied on others to get them from place to place," Glumac said.

He said in Vietnam he saw a lot of war veterans and amputees who needed chairs.

In the Gaza Strip, many were men involved in recent fighting.

In addition to wheelchairs, the organizations provide walkers and crutches and Glumac performs physical-therapy services.

"It's incredibly intense. We see a lot of activity and a lot of excitement," he said. "In a lot of ways we're physically tired, but emotionally we're on a high."

He said there are always a mixture of tears, hugs and handshakes once a person receives his or her chair.

"People are usually very grateful, In some cases they've had a lifetime of disability," he said.

While the chairs are all-new or like-new, sometimes extensive modifications need to be done, particularly with children.

That's where ingenuity and reliance on local volunteers kick in.

Glumac said sometimes parts can be swapped from the other wheelchairs, but other times he has to ask for help from a local welder to make a part.

Glumac was recognized for his volunteerism this fall with the state Physical Therapy Association's Humanitarian Award for 2000.

"I saw it as an opportunity to ask fellow therapists to consider engaging in similar activities and volunteer locally or internationally," said Glumac, who added he was caught unaware by the award.

Glumac said he will continue to make future trips.

"The effort you put in is small in terms of what you get back," he said.

Anyone with a used wheelchair to donate can call Glumac at 1-717-749-6217 and leave a message.

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