Somehow Cochabamba firefighters (of which there are few) found out that Wilson has a fascination of firefighters and wants to be one. They invited Wilson to ride in their truck and made him an honorary fireman at the ripe old age of 7. Wilson has muscular dystrophy that is obviously advancing rapidly. From what I read, his future is bleak, and even bleaker when you add in where he lives and a family with minimal resources.
At the end of the article, a plea went out for help for Wilson...and a wheelchair.
So, we took the first step. Joni & Friends is the favorite ministry of my sister Emma. I asked her to look them up and see about the possibilities of a wheelchair for Wilson. After a few days and not hearing anything, I took another step and rang the fire station in Cochabamba. I asked if they really wanted a wheelchair for Wilson (yes) and if he had one yet (no). I told the fireman "I live in Bolivia but am currently in the US and think I can get a wheelchair donated and can bring it back when I return".
He got so excited over the phone, actually skype, he was practically shouting! He kept saying "what do we do? how can we help? who can we call?" I told him to leave it to me since I speak English. ;)
After emailing and calling more people with Joni & Friends, I reached someone in their "Wheels for the World" division who immediately started explaining our next steps. It sunk in that this meant they were indeed going to help! I was actually requesting two wheelchairs at this point, remembering little girl V who also had an article published in the newspaper pleading for help some time after her stay with us. In the end, there wasn't time as we deliberated if a wheelchair would even work for a child in her very advanced condition. (I'll look into that more when I'm back.)
Next, I received the forms to fill out from Wheels for the World. Then I called two of our houses looking for Tia Maribel, our physical therapist, to catch her up on Wilson (who she remembered having read about...and I was like "well he's coming to see you tomorrow!). She said she had never measured a child for a wheelchair before but was willing to learn.
Then I called the Cochabamba fire station and spoke with two or three fire fighters until I was speaking to their coronel. Each one of them became so animated at the prospect of helping Wilson! They agreed to transport him and his parents to the Baby Home the next day so that Maribel could measure him for the wheelchair. A poorly fitted wheelchair can easily do more harm than good. THEN I called the office to inform my staff what was up, and THEN I emailed volunteers Katrina and Savannah with all the details of what we needed to know here in the US, reminding them to take lots of pictures and also sending a list of questions to ask his family.
And did I mention I did the above from the car as we crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas on our way from Tennessee to Texas?
Once Katrina emailed back the details from the fitting session and observing his condition, the next step was to fax the forms and signatures to Wheels for the World.
Did I mention that our contact's name is Gail Thompson? Half the time when I saw her email address I thought it was my Mom's, Glenda Thompson.
After that, Gail got me in touch with the guy who runs the refurbishing site in a Nashville "correctional development facility".
I should mention here that his last name is Wilson.
It only took him about a week to have the new custom wheelchair ready to go! It then took us another week or two to have a day to devote to picking it up from the jail, 3 1/2 hours away (see picture above).
To complete our pick up day, we stopped off at a Toys R Us to find a fire engine as a birthday present/Christmas present for Wilson, who had turned 8 just the day before and had a party put on by none other than his new fire fighter friends.
(It wasn't all work. As you can see from the picture at right, the trip to Nashville gave us the perfect opportunity to ring up fellow Texan friends who moved here about the time I moved to Bolivia and we haven't seen since. We had a nice catch-up during our mother daughter lunch on a charming historic downtown square while the Christmas parade passed by!)
This is where we now stand:
My staff is letting the family know that we indeed have the wheelchair and that Wilson should have it by year's end. It weighs over 50 pounds and American Airlines will not let me carry it on since it's not for my own use and is too large for the overhead bin. Secondly, I have embargos and strict rules (and NO exceptions) regulating travel to Bolivia going against me as far as checking it in a box or as excess luggage, so it's proving trickier than I had hoped. I have probably 2 suitcases worth of donations, not to mention my own things, so something has to give but I'm not sure what yet. I can already see I'll have to leave a lot of the clothes and shoes and books I brought as I shed weight on the way back.
I'm in the middle of looking into a host of options before making a decision for the final step on my end of getting this to Wilson. From the beginning I've had Christmas stuck in my mind as a deadline. Christmas doesn't seem to mean as much to Bolivians as it does to us westerners (there carnival reigns), but I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't explore every avenue of getting the wheelchair to Wilson by then.
I will let everyone know how the saga works out, and of course will post pictures when I have them!!