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A Wheelchair for Cambodian New Years

By eanderson

September 2, 2023

A manual wheelchair with fireworks exploding from the seat.Andrea Dominovic was determined to tell this story. It took several weeks to get permission from her workplace, but “Nurse Andrea” (as she is known) never gave up. She says it’s what her patient would have wanted, and so she made time to talk with us during her busy workday.

Last spring, her patient, “Nary,” passed away from metastasized colon cancer. She was 38 years old and left behind a fiancé and three children: a boy, age 8, and two girls, ages 10 and 18.

Nary had qualified for Andrea’s case management once she was considered “disabled.” By this point, she was having difficulty walking or standing for any period of time. She told Andrea she hadn’t been out of her house in months except for medical appointments.

Andrea knew that Nary qualified for a wheelchair through insurance. But she also knew that the paperwork, approval process, and equipment supplier would take weeks. Nary needed a wheelchair much sooner. Her “big wish” was to attend the upcoming Cambodian New Year’s celebration. The holiday is a three-day event in April, and Nary wanted to share it with her family.

Andrea says Nary “was one of the nicest, most likable people. She appreciated the smallest gestures and put everyone else’s needs before her own.” Her character is irrelevant to her need for a wheelchair, of course. But acknowledging her gentle, generous spirit honors her. It also puts into stark relief the cruelty of our healthcare system’s hoops and hurdles.

When Andrea met Nary, she was sharing her mother’s walker.

A colleague suggested Andrea try REquipment for a free wheelchair. The REquipment program was designed to avoid healthcare obstacles. Since 2014, REquipment has reassigned more than 10,000 pieces of donated durable medical equipment. Manual wheelchairs are our most requested item, and every wheelchair, we suspect, has a story.

At REquipment’s online inventory, Andrea found two wheelchair options. Nary was able to select the chair she wanted and submit the release form right away. Within a few days, our staff called Andrea to arrange a pick-up time in Worcester (since delivery takes longer). “I thought it was very easy,” she told us. She brought Nary her wheelchair that day.

In Cambodia, celebrating the new year begins with people decorating their homes and themselves for the arrival of the new year’s angel. Then there’s giving gifts, visiting temples for blessings, tossing baby powder at one another, and honoring parents and grandparents to receive advice and good wishes for the coming year. From what Andrea tells us, the celebration in this country includes three days of food and picnics.

Nary enjoyed all of it.

We often say that durable medical equipment keeps people safe, helps them get to work and school, and even extends or saves lives. In this case, saving a life happened at the end of life. Nary had her wheelchair for six weeks before she died.

Nary told Andrea, “‘Oh my god, I had a blast! We attended the celebration, and we’ve also been out to eat several times since you brought over the wheelchair.'” She also told Andrea that she was able to do “the simple things, like go out on a date, go out with her kids and get some lunch, or just go over to the park.”

Nary was used to pushing past her pain to put on a brave face for her family. This time, she did it to truly live the last six weeks of her life.

We’re grateful Andrea shared Nary’s story with us, and we thanked her for picking up the wheelchair so that Nary could have it for as long as possible.

We like to think of Nary using it, tossing baby powder with her children, laughing.

When Andrea first met Nary’s kids, she says they were so quiet and frightened for their mother. Now she tells us, “If it wasn’t for you guys, I’m not sure any of these last moments with Nary would have happened. The family is so grateful. These are moments that her kids and fiancé can always remember her by.”