Eleanore’s Project Experiences-Reflections of the St. Catherine University OT Students

Today we have the students telling their stories about their time in Peru. I think you’ll agree that they are a fine group of young adults.


We worked with Christian last week in Lima. Christian was a very complex case. He had high tone and it was difficult to position him in a safe and functional matter. His entire family waited for hours while we changed the chair over and over. At the end of the day the chair was finished and the family were extremely grateful we could find a position that relaxed him in his chair as well as a night time position to help him sleep safely through the night. All of the families have been unbelievably great throughout the long process of customizing a wheelchair. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this experience especially about my patience. This is something I have struggled with in the past but I’m happy to say my patience level has definitely improved over the last two weeks. Eleanore’s Project has been a great opportunity that will be invaluable for my future as an occupational therapist. It has been an enriching experience I’ll never forget.


Working in a different country, with people from different cultures can be both intimidating and nerve racking. One person that helped me to remember the reason why we were here was a young woman named Adenka. She was a very complex client who had to come back to the Lima clinic 3 days after her initial visit to get her chair revamped. Although you would think someone who had already waited for her chair for a full work day would dread coming back, she was gleaming with joy the moment she entered the room. Her patience and positivity encouraged me to work hard to give her the best possible wheelchair. This is just one of the many instances that bought me back to the true purpose of Eleanore’s Project: enhancing the lives of those in need.


On my first day at the clinic in Cusco, I met a woman named Rosario. This particular client made me learn a lot about myself and my ability to handle uncomfortable situations. Rosario came into the clinic in a lot of pain. Each time we transferred or moved her, she winced and squeezed my hand very tightly. During these moments, I experienced strong emotions. In my life, I have worked with several clients experiencing pain and have never felt the way I did that day. Rosario is someone I will always remember when working with clients in the future. I hope the wheelchair, modifications, and night time postural care will reduce her pain level and help her have a better quality of life.


Today I met Eric. He was a vibrant 4 year old who was intrigued by the buckles, Velcro, and straps being put on his wheelchair. Throughout the process of putting together his chair, he wanted to touch everything and smiled at everyone. When we put on the wheelchair tray, he started to use both of his hands and arms to play with a squishy ball. This reminded me as a student of all the things I learned in class about posture and the upper extremity. This experience has helped me to see beyond the walls of the classroom. But this experience hasn’t just been for educational learning. For me, this has been a path of learning regarding compassion, empathy, communication, teamwork, and an ethical responsibility/ mission to help children and their families.


While on this trip I have been constantly reminded of the power of love. Watching the parents of the children we help one realizes that those children are their whole world. The most objective evidence of this is the amazing lack of pressure sores we have seen on any of the children we have fit with wheelchairs. One girl in particular took 10 hours to fit, the family had taken a 7 hour bus ride and had another 7 hours back starting at 8:30pm. She was very high tone, more so than my supervising therapist had ever seen, yet her parents had dutifully repositioned her for years every day and throughout every night and sat through a 10 hour day just to keep her healthy and safe. Their love had kept her from a fate that many face when they have complex body shapes. Pressure sores can cause enormous pain and compromise an individual’s life. We were reminded of the power of love tonight by the heartfelt, generous, and kind words of the Lions Club. They told us we had helped them rediscover what it meant to be human and how powerful love could be.


One of my favorite experiences of the trip was be second day I was in Lima. We were building a wheelchair for a teenager who had never been fitted in a proper chair. She had poor head control and was not able to keep her head up. The therapist I was working with and I put a head rest on her that allowed her to independently hold her head up and move it back and forth to observe the environment. The “wow” moment in her eyes and the huge smile that appeared on her face were unforgettable.