OHSU Helps Paralyzed Guatemalans

08/11/99    Portland, Ore.

Foster Family Members Visit University as Donated Medical Supplies Head South.

Sixteen-year-old Edwin Tenas has spent most of his life in hospital rooms and other institutions in Central America. Years ago, a bout with polio cost the Guatemalan teenager the use of his legs. Until recently, his loss of mobility cut him off from the rest of the world. But now, thanks in part to the doctors and staff at Oregon Health Sciences University, Edwin's life is taking a sudden turn for the better.

This week, Edwin will visit OHSU during a month-long trip to the U.S. He'll be joined by his roommate 23-year-old David Lara, who was paralyzed in a random shooting. While at OHSU, the two will undergo medical tests to combat problems associated with their paralysis. The Portland Rotary is paying for their visit.

"It's incredible to come here and receive these services from the hospital," David said. "In Guatemala, we don't have these kinds of services."

The two are members of a unique foster family in Guatemala made up of young men paralyzed by illness, car accidents and shootings. Their group home called Transitions was set up by American medical social worker John Bell who hopes to return the men to their normal, independent lives.

The home is currently funded through donations. However, the young men soon hope to be self-sufficient. They have launched their own business, a desktop publishing company, which they operate out of their home.

In addition, the foster family offers services to neighbors in medical need. The group home is associated with a worldwide program, called Whirlwind Wheelchair International. Whirlwind provides wheelchairs at cost, in developing countries. As part of that effort, Edwin and his roommates build and repair donated chairs for other paralyzed Guatemalans. The Portland Rotary Club also helps support this effort by providing tools and supplies for construction of rugged chairs that can handle the rough terrain of Guatemala.

Group home members are also recipients of medical supplies donated by OHSU. Michael Lemmers, M.D., associate professor of surgery (urology), School of Medicine, is currently gathering the latest shipment to be sent to Guatemala. He's gathering tubes, catheters, gauze and drugs, among other things. Some of the items come from packages that have been opened but are otherwise useable. "Many of the supplies we collect would just go to waste in the U.S.," Lemmers said. "It's great to send these materials to people who can really use them."