Toronto to Nepal: transporting ability
Two caring alumnae are helping paralyzed people in Nepal walk again. Their next mission: rural Canada
Sylvia (Coates) Haycock, OT’04, and Carol Scovil, Sc’97, met while volunteering at Green Pastures Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre in Nepal. However, they didn’t realize they were both Queen’s grads until a Christmas party back at their workplace, Toronto Rehab’s Lyndhurst Centre.
Lyndhurst is a spinal cord injury rehab centre, where Sylvia is an occupational therapist and Carol is an assistive technology consultant.
“We discovered that my husband, Bruce Haycock [Sc’99], graduated from Queen’s engineering physics program, just as Carol did,” Sylvia laughs, adding that only recently have they learned that one of NepalAbility’s founders, Edith Ng, who first encouraged Sylvia to work in Nepal, is also a Queen’s graduate, OT’96.
NepalAbility is a volunteer group of Canadian rehab professionals dedicated to reducing disability in Nepal. In 2008-9, Carol volunteered with Interserve Canada in Nepal for 16 months, adapting wheelchairs for rural use and studying community participation of individuals with spinal cord injuries. Sylvia traveled to Nepal with NepalAbility in 2009, to deliver interpersonal professional rehabilitation education to Nepali staff, patients, and families, including Green Pastures Hospital, where Carol was working.
Carol has returned with NepalAbility twice, Sylvia once, to continue providing education and assisting in developing Nepal’s capacity for rehabilitation.
Both are amazed at the impact those efforts have made. “In a country that has so few resources,” says Carol, “you really can come in and make concrete differences.”
At Green Pastures, Carol worked with one teenage civil war victim who had lost both legs in an explosion. His prosthetic legs were impractical for walking long distances, so Carol assembled a “Motivation Rough-Terrain Wheelchair” with him. Revisiting Nepal eight months later, she encountered this boy on the bus. “He was really excited that he’d been able to leave the hospital and get on with his life again. It was really rewarding to see,” says Carol.
Sylvia has had her rewards, too. She had learned how to treat people with Guillaine-Barré Syndrome (GBS) at Lyndhurst just before heading to Nepal for the first time. “There’s a good prognosis for most patients with GBS in that it injures peripheral nerves, so they can recover very well with rehab to guide their recovery. But they often begin their journey almost fully paralyzed,” she explains.
One of the first patients Sylvia saw in Nepal was a nurse with GBS. Her team (Canadian and Nepalese) used an inter-professional approach to intervention and treatment, using various techniques to move her body. They got her to sit up for the first time since her paralysis six months earlier. “We showed her what was possible – what we’d just learned in Canada.”
“The woman had been sent home,” adds Carol, still amazed by this story. “When Sylvia and her team went to visit, she was in bed, with no hope of moving again. But they got her up, standing, on that first day!”
On her most recent trip to Nepal, Sylvia met the woman again. She had returned to work as a play therapist at Tansen Mission Hospital. “Her mobility was amazing; she had no pain, and she’s walking without any aids.”
The episode gave Sylvia the strength to move forward in her journey to help reduce disability around the world. “Everything I’ve ever tried for, and wanted ... when she walked into the room, I knew it was real. My whole life purpose was there, in that moment.”
With a diverse team, from surgeons to ITs to speech pathologists, heading to Nepal every few months, Carol and Sylvia feel that NepalAbility is set to make lasting global changes. They also hope to help develop an OT school in Nepal, but above all wish to instigate change in their own backyard.
“For various reasons, we [rehabilitators] aren’t reaching out to Canadians who could use more possibilities,” explains Sylvia. “I’d like to build an Outreach team for spinal-cord injury patients in rural areas. It’s possible there are patients here in Canada with GBS, for example, who do not have access to this type of rehabilitation.”
Interested in becoming involved with NepalAbility? If so, please contact Edith Ng, firstname.lastname@example.org