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Sunday, November 28, 2010

a personal tale...

I suppose there might be an ounce of rationality in believing that if you collect orthopedic/prosthetic medical equiment, that maybe by the simple act of being constantly surrounded by it, you might find yourself needing it one day.
Unfortantely, the day came about a month ago for me.  I fell and to my dismay, ruptured my anterior-talo- fibular ligament.  You dont need to be bothered with the details, however, the translation is no walking for 2 months, a few months of rehab,tons of crutch-armpit burns and frustration.
My first week I have to admit, was extremely difficult.  I happen to live on the top floor of a condo with no elavator.  Crutches and stairs don't really go well together.  Throw a dog into that mix and well, you are pretty much..you can do the math.
On top of all of the frustration, I also experienced many life changes during this month- not going to get too personal, but lets just say, nothing is permanent, nothing lasts forever.  Many of these life changes caused me a lot of grief.  I found myself at one point asking "why is the universe doing this to me?".  I honestly felt bad for myself.
And then, BAM!  Well, not really like that...but for dramatic purposes of this blog, I will fast forward the gradual realization into a full on, cheesy, Batman and Robin "Whack!, Baaaaam! Boom!" screenshot.

"The universe is not doing this TO me. The universe is doing this FOR me."

As silly, cheesy, of-centered or maybe even dead-on accurate as it sounds, I realized that through all my frustrations with crutches, all my annoyances with a leg injury, I saw just how one silly ligament being temporarily disconnected in your leg, can really cause a lot of external trauma.  I can not imagine or even comprehend not having a few resources to get me through such a vulnerable time.

I suppose this accident, might be a "happy accident" as a friend once told me.  As a start-up non profit, sometimes, even though you believe in your mission, you feel as if the world might not hear you or that there is not enough of "you" to accomplish your mission.  But, this accident could not have come at a better time because before I realized what Embraced does and what we have the capability of doing.  But, much more than just realizing what Embraced does, right now I feel it. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I can see clearly now...

This week I fell and found out, regretfully, that my life will involve more crutches than I had hoped for...only this time, I would not be donating them for a while,  but instead would be using them.  I'm active, I love to run and more importantly, have found my independence not only a personality trait, but rather something that defined me.

This past week, without being a "whining-baby" was sort of hard.  Hard because I am now in a position of relying on someone (my very amazing boyfriend) to do everything for me- walk the dog, bring me water, take out the trash, get this, get that.  As much as I say I would love to have someone at my beckon call, it has been the hardest thing for me.  But, as I sit here, leg up in the air, I can not be anything but so entirely grateful for my crutches I have that get me around, for the great environment that I have- a comfy couch to sit on, the distraction of reality TV show and great friends.  And still, it is hard for me.  I can not imagine the mental capacity of the people that Embraced helps.  I can not imagine on top of having to deal with not being "able" to care for myself, having to worry about not having the medical equipment to allow me to get around a little or to not be able to afford it.
Without exercising my true independent, self-sufficient, not wanting to rely on anyone nature too much- I am sure I will be fine, but I will not stop until I know that all people in similar situation- situations of reduced mobility- are given the resources they need, to at least get up and have the option to help themselves.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

wheel'in around

"I need a wheelchair, my friend broke his shoulder and leg.  He doesn't have insurance" says a voice over the phone.  This is such a common call to Embraced.

So, I head to our facility to pick out a shiny, almost new wheelchair for this person who lay in a hospital bed in Atlanta.  I wonder as I am touching this wheelchair, where it has been and where it will go.  How many people have you helped Mr. Wheelchair?  Who have you given the gift of mobility to?  Who has been so relieved to see you and so relieved to get rid of you?

See, the truth is, while being in a warehouse full of crutches, walkers and prosthetics might be a little freaky for the average person....I view it as tremendous...the exponential potential of positivity this equipment has to offer is what keeps all of us at Embraced motivated.

Embraced is providing this link- matching the excess medical equipment that sits idle- under beds, closets, or basements with folks who just need a little bit of help.  We are providing a solution for the healthcare crisis.

Visit www.embracedatlanta.org to learn more about this BOLD idea for social change.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

 The story is far to familiar for me, but for most- it is not so familiar and the irony is- it is right here in our own backyard......

    A 28 year old mother of 4, with a 9 year old son who broke his leg.  Ironically, he broke his leg while she was in a training program for a new job, which forced her to leave the program to tend to her son's broken leg.  This left her, once again, without a job.....uninsured, sitting in the ER, she sat wondering how she would pay the bill.  Released from the hospital, she carried her son home, whom sat idle as mom dialed clinic after clinic, searching for a pair of crutches for her son.  For the past week and a half, she was carrying her 9 year old son, who's blue cast started at his toes and made his way to his hip,  from couch to table, to anywhere he needed to go.  A simple pair of crutches was what she needed.  That is it.
   
     My phone rings.  I am driving to a meeting with an orthopaedic surgeon to tell him about Embraced and how setting up a collection bin in his office, which collects crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, etc can and does make a huge difference right here in Atlanta and across borders as well.  A tired voice on the other end of the phone tells me that she talked to someone, who talked to someone, who told her we (Embraced)  might be able to help.  She told me she applied for medicare but had to wait 45 days for that to kick in...so essentially, she had to wait 45 days to get a pair of crutches, which meant that a 9 year old might miss 45 days of school because of a broken leg.  She told me all she needed was crutches so that her son could go back to school.  The school would not let him back unless he could prove self-reliant mobility. 

    So, as simple as it sounds- I drove out today, across town, to a neighborhood I would not usually frequent and  dropped off a pair of crutches, a wheelchair and some hope to a mother who is simply trying to get to a better situation in life and a boy- who was simply trying to go back to school.

Embraced is the solution.  You can be part of that equation.  Visit us at http://www.embracedatlanta.org/ and figure out how you fit into that equation.



 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

its all coming full circle now

The day I gave Guerline a new arm was the day I realized that things really do happen for a reason—even things that seem horrible when you’re going through them.  I’m not talking about Guerline losing her arm happening for a reason.  Maybe it did, but that’s her story to tell.   I’m talking about my story… the path that brought me to Guerline. 
I’m not a doctor.  I was going to be once (and maybe one day I still will be).  It was my plan my entire life. But, as fate would have it, life had different plans for me than I had for life.   
After 9 months of studying for the MCAT’s, I needed a day off, so I went horseback riding.   For a few brief passes through a wide-open field I was able to forget about how I “had” to pass this exam so that I could become a doctor-so that I could help people, so that I could make a difference. 
That’s when it happened—in slow motion.  As I took off for one last race across the grassy meadow, I felt the excitement in the air.  And then I felt myself flying through it.  And then the pain came.  There were ligament tears and there were broken bones.  And there were shattered dreams of medical school.  There was no way I would recover in time to take the very last MCAT exam that year.
I went through all the stages of grief.  I was shocked and in denial, and then I was filled with anguish and guilt for doing something so reckless at such an important time. 
But I worked through the pain, both physical and mental.  Eventually I didn’t need the crutches, the braces or the constant visits to physical therapists.   As my physical wounds healed, so did my emotional ones.   
As I sat staring at all of my orthopedic equipment, sitting in my closet after I was finished using it, reminding me of everything I lost, I started laughing.  “It’s ironic.  Immobile mobility devices” I said aloud, even though nobody could hear me.   Suddenly, instead of questioning, “Why did this happen to me?” I was questioning something completely different:  “If the purpose of crutches, braces, walkers and wheelchairs is to provide mobility, then why do so many sit idle- in closets, basements, or worse- in landfills?”
I decided that I would not just let my used equipment go to waste…at the very least somebody else was going to benefit from me having been hurt.  And so began a chain of events that changed everything. Again. 
I went online and looked for a place to donate all of the perfectly usable equipment that I didn’t want to have to see anymore sitting idle in my closet.  All I wanted was to give it all away, because as soon as it was out of my life, I thought I could move on and get back on my path to medical school. 
My goal was to find an organization that would not only take my equipment but one that I could connect with the non-profit health clinic where I was volunteering, with the hope that the clinic could obtain a sustainable supply of equipment for their uninsured/underinsured patients.  But I couldn’t find anybody to take my crutches or my braces.  I couldn’t find a single organization in Atlanta that was willing to take any orthopedic equipment from me (or anybody else) and redistribute it to others in need.    I called the big name organizations that we all donate to when we have things we don’t need.  They told me they throw away medical equipment because of the liability.  They told me to find somewhere else.   The problem was there was nowhere else.
I was shocked.  How could this be?  I had volunteered in a clinic where countless patients came in, uninsured, and couldn’t afford the crutches they needed to walk.  I had seen old ladies who couldn’t get a walker because they didn’t have the money.  I witnessed innocent gunshot victims who couldn’t get a new leg because they cost $10,000 or more. 
Here I was, with items that so many people needed and there was no bridge to connect us.  It made no sense.  A solution was needed.   
I found a group in Canada that collected and distributed orthopedic equipment.  I’m not sure why, but at this point I was obsessed with this problem.  So I flew up to Canada to talk to them, and to see what could be done to fix this problem in America.   I didn’t really think I would be the one to fix it.  I was young, and na├»ve, and thought that I’d find somebody else who would fix it… while I went to medical school. 
On the flight home from Canada I realized I had a decision to make.
Somehow I now had this knowledge that there was this major problem in America.  It was a problem that DID have a solution, but in order to have a solution, it took someone who was willing to create a solution.  This problem was going to require someone with a business background coupled with an unyielding passion for helping others through orthopedic equipment.  I could not think of anyone who fit this description, other than me.    However, the only problem was that I did not want to tackle this; I wanted to go to medical school.  So I asked myself… “If I go to medical school, will I be able to live with the fact that I didn’t try to fix this first?”
I was 24 years old.   I wanted to be a doctor.  I didn’t WANT to find a way to get used orthopedic equipment to underprivileged people.  I didn’t have any idea HOW to give used orthopedic equipment to underprivileged people.  But I knew that ethically, and morally, there was only one choice that I could make.  The right thing to do was to figure out a way to connect those who had this equipment that had no value to them with those who needed it.    One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, right?  If you’re talking about arms and legs, it definitely is. 
Embraced started with absolutely no money, and one bin collecting used equipment at a doctor’s office.  Patients would come in for their appointment and be asked to donate what they didn’t need any longer on the way out. 
I was shocked when, two days later the bin was full.  Beginners luck, right?  I emptied it, took the equipment home and set it back out.  Two more days, another full bin. 
I never thought I’d live in a condo that was filled with prosthetic arms, plastic legs, wheelchairs, and countless other orthopedic devices; but a few months later, my neighbors were giving me really strange looks because I was the freaky neighbor that did.  I won’t even tell you how this impacted my dating life. 
Embraced partnered with the clinic in Atlanta that I used to volunteer at and another organization that distributes medical aides to developing nations.   Together, we are able to distribute the collected items to people who really needed it. 
None of it has been easy, but all of it has been entirely rewarding.  Starting a non-profit with no money is a lot harder than most people would expect.  It turns out that it makes grantors a little nervous to fund  a brand new organization run by a twenty-something year old.  
But two years, 45 collection bins, countless hours and 1500 pieces of equipment redistributed later, there are so many stories of people Embraced has helped.  There is a man in Ecuador who had polio and needed crutches to walk--  Embraced gave him the crutches.  There was the boy in Atlanta who was shot when he was 18 months old, and at 17 years old still needed countless pieces of equipment just so he could live a semi-normal life—Embraced gave him the equipment. 
And there was Guerline, a 33-year-old Haitian woman who spent two days trapped beneath earthquake rubble before she lost her arm.   The type of amputation she needed was so rare that the prosthetic arm she needed cost $51,000.  When she came to Embraced and asked for help, I was, against all odds, able to say “yes, we can help you.  And yes, we will help you.” 
I’m not a doctor.  I wanted to be.  I still want to be.  But sometimes life has other plans. 
I never thought I’d look back at my personal accident and be happy I fell off of a horse, had my body broken, and had my dreams put on hold.   I never thought I’d meet Guerline, let alone be able to give her a second arm.  It turns out that being a doctor isn’t necessarily my only path to helping people, even if I always thought it would be.  I never thought I’d say that.  


http://www.cbsatlanta.com/positively-georgia/index.html

Sunday, August 1, 2010

An unexpected tearjerker.

In January when the earthquake in Haiti shook the world into action, Embraced too was one of the organizations which, in a small part, helped.  We sent equipment on its way, to hopefully, provide a resource to help to heal all the broken bones, ligaments, and quite possibly, ultimately heal the hearts that were crushed as a result of the destruction.  While we of course were called into immediate action, I knew that when all the rubble was cleared, when the dust settled, we would then, finally see the true reality of this event.
Fast forward a few months, my intern mentions a story about this young Haitian amputee in Atlanta he saw on the news the night before.  He follows through with contacting them.  Before you know it I am across the table from Franz and Guerline.  Guerline, a few years older than me, sat across the table,  missing her left arm.  As many times as I have seen the lack of limbs, it still manages to perplex me.  I secretly hope that it is just my brain playing an optical illusion on my eyes and that if I rub them hard enough that maybe possibly that might restore what is not there.  I hate it because it never does and I want so badly to fix it.
We get through the normal conversation that occurs in Atlanta every August about how hot it is as we excuse the multitude of sweat stains that accrue as a result of just simply existing outside.  I then invite the inevitable but necessary account of why Frantz and Guerline are sitting in front of me rather than back home, in Haiti.  "So- tell me your story" I say.  

I love hearing people's stories.  It is a way for me to somehow transcend into their thoughts, feelings and emotions.  I suppose it is the closest way for me to feel like I actually might be able to understand and might possibly build that bridge that allows me to connect to them.

As Guerline spoke in her native creole tongue,  while understood every third word from my fluency in another latin-based language, I felt every word.  Each and every word piled on my chest- no my heart, like a ton of bricks.  I stared into her eyes, to somehow give her a hug, comfort as she relayed to me the horrific and horrendous series of circumstances which resulted in her, one less arm, sitting in front of me, looking for someone, something to make her whole again.  Tears rolled out of my eyes unexpectedly.

At this moment, I realized why it is that I have spent the last almost two years struggling, trying so hard to get a non-profit off the ground.  It is moments like these that give you the energy and potency to keep persisting, keeping moving forward regardless of the fact that you have no salary, yet.  I take these moments as messages, clues along my journey, hinting to me that I am on the right road, regardless if it is uphill at this moment.

We wrapped up the meeting a little bit changed.  Guerline's face was washed of the hard look that people sometimes get after they have knocked on every door possible, only to receive one rejection after the next.  She smiled after I told her that Embraced will help her, staring into my soul, deliberately saying to me "Merci" as if she not only wanted me to hear it, but rather to feel her gratitude.

I found myself saying "thank you" to her.  Thank you Guerline, for the opportunity to help you.  Thank you for being the one that reminds me just how spectacular and special the act of making someone else's tears my tears, my prayers, and now my mission.

Here I go....

So,  a lot has happened the past two years and like many people, you end up looking back thinking "Man, I never saw that one coming!".  Two years ago, I would have thought it was a joke if you told me that I would not be in medical school but rather challenging myself to start a non-profit at the worst economic time in history.  I always manage to take on these uphill tasks.  Aside from the non profit, I just love challenges in general.  I see them as bench-presses for your spirit and the opportunity to grow.  Of course, they are so entirely uncomfortable, but they also remind you, you are alive...so here I am, 26 and trying to make a difference through my non profit, Embraced.  Embraced sets up bins in doctors offices, gyms, therapy clinics etc to collect crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, braces, etc.  We then inventory and redistribute this equipment to individuals in need- both locally and globally.

I have decided to blog about Embraced because it is essentially my baby.  I have birthed this creature and  thus far has been the biggest joy- filled with hilarious moments, sad moments, scary moments, "oh my god, I feel like I am going to throw up and have a nervous breakdown all at the same time" moments and every other possible emotion you could imagine.  While I feel vulnerable exposing that I simply don't have all the answers to everything and also struggle, it is also nice sharing with others, that I too, am human ;)  I laugh at how silly this sounds.  It is so normal to not know the answer to everything, yet, why is it so unacceptable to admit it- why is it seen as a sign of weakness and that somehow people will now think you are not a leader?  Maybe my honesty will make others doubt my capabilities, but I hope rather it teaches me as well as others the wonderful lesson of humility.  Regardless of what illusion of strength or weakness this projects, I am simply trying to make a difference.

Initially, I really did not want a non-profit.  Yep, that is right.  I wanted to be a doctor.  But, when I found out how much perfectly good and usable equipment gets thrown away while people in need literally sit idle because they don't have something as basic as crutches, I could not turn my head.  I wanted to, Ill admit it.  It is so easy to just ignore a problem and brush it off saying "yeah, maybe I will do that when I am established..." .  Which, I respect those that will do something when they are established, but I just tend to subscribe to the "now and here" mentality.  Even though I am 26, there is no guarantee I will be here for a set amount of time.
Not to get morbid- I just think that life is so much richer when you subscribe to the mentality of "carpe diem".

I hope that this series of blogs do not come off as arrogant as if the world should pay ME attention because I (in a long exaggerated cadence) am doing something to help others....I just hope to accomplish a few simple things from this story telling experience.  First, I hope to inspire others to find their passion- whatever it may be.  I hope that through my mess-ups, my raw honesty about all the road bumps and crap that happens, that maybe you will find that "it ain't easy for anyone" and that will help and give you comfort when following your passion becomes, well, uncomfortable.  Secondly, I hope to poke fun and find the humor, the joy and the beauty of this struggle.  This is more of a selfish motivation, but I think that through sharing this journey, I will be able to give myself a break, relax and recollect on the time.  And lastly, as cliche or however "Jack-Handy-like" as it may sound, I really hope that by reading this plethora of babel that maybe, just maybe, you can manage to deduce something and whatever that something may be, that somehow, someway it manages to make you feel a stronger, deeper, connection and appreciation to humanity.  Happy reading.