An American OT in Thailand

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. – When Holly Micheff, a pediatric OT at California Children’s Services, traveled to Thailand to distribute wheelchairs, she couldn’t help but notice the stark differences in health care between Thailand and the U.S.

“When I have a client that comes to me in my clinic (in California), they’ve already been seen by a doctor, had X-rays, and undergone any surgeries that they need,” she said. “In Thailand, you start from the ground up.”

Micheff traveled to northern Thailand recently with Wheels for the World, a worldwide wheelchair distribution outreach, where she worked alongside a mechanic to fit 80 people, ages 2-90, for wheelchairs donated from across the U.S. and restored by volunteer prison inmates. Many of them have never been seen by a doctor.

“A lot of these people have been in car accidents or have spinal cord injuries, but they’ve never been diagnosed,” said Micheff.

During her trip, Micheff worked with a 7-year-old girl who had been bitten by a dog. She later developed a brain infection, which resulted in spastic quadriplegia. She also developed scoliosis from lying down for four years due to the incident.

“In developing countries, preventative care and post-acute care are viewed as luxuries,” said Micheff. “When something happens, they get care for it right away, but they’re not doing anything to follow up.”

After assessing a patient, she worked with the mechanic to outfit the chair with whatever was needed, using pool noodles, duct tape and spare parts.

“I made an elbow block out of a cut up lateral support that wasn’t being used anymore,” she said. “Meanwhile, an elbow block can cost upward of $500 in the United States.”

More than anything, Micheff says the trip gave her perspective. 

“I’m blown away that people with so little in other countries are so joyful after waiting five to 10 years for a wheelchair,” she said. “If we knew what it was like to wait for something we needed for that long, we would be so much more grateful.”