A Great Opportunity for Therapists

November 18, 2014 by Bonnie Pruckler, PT

A physical therapist helps a special needs child walk in a used gait trainer device As a physical therapist working in pediatrics for most of my career, I have always loved Rifton equipment. There’s a certain excitement in how the right device can transform a child’s life. As part of this passion, I began to collect used equipment and wheelchairs to donate them to organizations that provide them to children and adults who cannot afford them.

Before long, I found myself volunteering to participate with these organizations when they distributed the devices. I discovered what a thrill this can be. Even my 18-year-old son got a charge out of it when we went to Vietnam together back in 2002.

It’s wonderful when any device that is no longer needed by one child can be used by another. Rifton has a great resource on their website which highlights locations throughout the United States that refurbish used equipment and then make it available for children and adults here in the U.S. or abroad who may otherwise be unable to access these devices.

Recently, I had a child who outgrew his medium Pacer. Coincidentally I was scheduled to go to Uganda with a charity called Joni and Friends, and a therapy center there had specifically asked for a gait trainer. The center was in a school for special needs children in Kampala. It all worked out perfectly. The parents donated the medium Pacer and Rifton provided the additional parts needed for a complete unit.

Well, almost perfectly. When I packed it in the box I used swim noodles to protect it in transit. Great idea, right? Not when customs tried to unpack it for inspection! But airport issues aside, when it reached its destination the therapists and students loved it. It was a great opportunity to be there with them, assisting the children into the device. And a sobering reality check to see one child walking barefoot in the Pacer because he couldn’t even afford shoes, let alone a gait trainer.

Many therapists and DME technicians are discovering, like me, how rewarding it is to share their knowledge with those less fortunate. I have now been to eight countries, including Vietnam, Egypt, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, and Uganda. We fit clients into wheelchairs, walkers, and PET chairs too, as we try to give the most appropriate device to those who need. I have gone as a volunteer with Hope Haven International and with Joni and Friends. Each time has been unforgettable.


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