Reservists "Can do" attitude get a wheelchair to a handicapped man in Trinidad

  • Published
  • By Charlie Miller
  • 445th Airlift Wing
It took a lot of work, but thanks to two members of the 445th's 87th Aerial Port Squadron, a young man in Trinidad with cerebral palsy no longer has to be carried everywhere by family members. He now has a wheelchair.

Master Sgt. Rob Haye from the APS was one of the catalysts. The sergeant, while talking with his neighbors Tom and Barb Shanahan who have a daughter with cerebral palsy, found out about the 21-year-old who needs constant care from his parents and family members. The Shanahans knew they could obtain a wheelchair, but how could it be shipped to rural Trinidad?

Sergeant Haye contacted fellow APS member Tech. Sgt. Sean Schluter who works on the civilian side with Bax Global, an international freight transportation firm. The two wing members had worked together at a worldwide freight services company and were soon brainstorming on how to ship this wheelchair to Trinidad.

"The wheelchair we wanted to send to Trinidad was actually at a prison in Colorado," sergeant Haye said.

That may sound odd but there are nine correctional facilities in seven states that have groups of convicts that refurbish wheelchairs for the underprivileged disabled around the world. Named Wheels for the World, they are connected with the internationally known ministries Prison Fellowship and Joni and Friends.

"The Shanahans had the wheelchair shipped to their home in West Carrolton, Ohio, and sergeant Schluter took it from there," sergeant Haye said. "I thought of him instantly after talking to the Shanahans; he's a 'go to' guy."

The sergeants knew that even though the Air Force does hundreds of humanitarian missions each year, there would be a slim chance that they were to go to Trinidad in the next few months. Routing the chair through sergeant Schluter's employee was the next step.

"Sean was very passionate from the beginning," said Barb Shanahan. "He took total ownership of this; he locked on and saw it to completion. You could tell he wanted to make a difference in someone's life."

Wheels for the World had never shipped wheelchairs to Trinidad, according to Shanahan.

Trinidad is the largest and most populous of the 23 islands, which make up the country of Trinidad and Tobago located in the Caribbean. Trinidad is the southernmost island.

"I hit road block after road block after road block before Sean and Rob stepped in," Shanahan said. "A one-time delivery like this was virtually impossible."

The work of two 445th members has really given hope to the Nanansingh family, Shanahan said. She had estimated that the chair could be shipped to them in two weeks. Three months later, the wheelchair arrived in Trinidad.

"Both of these guys had the knowledge, knew the ins and outs and how to do all the paperwork," Shanahan said. "If it had not been for the hearts of Sean and Rob, this would have never happened."

The Shanahans had met the Nanansingh's, parents of the young man with cerebral palsy, while at a conference in Washington D.C. with their daughter, Emily. They learned his lack of a wheelchair and were determined to help.