For those readers of the Newsletter from the Sierra Madre who have followed the story of the boy, Alejandro Navarro, over several years, or who have read about him in our new book Nothing About Us Without Us, we are pleased to tell you that for the last few months Alejandro has been working eagerly in the Children’s Wheelchair Shop, learning to make wheelchairs and earning his way. He is now 18 years old.

Remember that when Aljandro was 12 years old and lived with his family in a poor barrio in the city of Mazatlan, he made the mistake of asking a policemen, “What caliber is your pistol?”

“This!” said the policeman, and drawing his pistol, he shot the boy through the spine.

When Alejandro arrived at PROJIMO a few weeks later, he already had severe pressure sores. Until they healed, he had to ride a wheeled cot, or gurney.

The PROJIMO team, with the help of disabled social worker Dolores Mesina in Mazatlan, worked hard to get the city government to assume at least some responsibility for Alejandro’s care.

Alejandro has found his calling in PROJIMO’s children’s wheelchair shop.

Alejandro has had a difficult life since he was shot. His family was evicted from their home and built a cardboard shack near the cemetery. His father and brothers have mostly been unemployed. Fortunately, Alejandro has had assistance from Liliane Fonds in Holland, to find ways to help the family meet their basic needs. From time to time, Alejandro has spent time at PROJIMO learning skills. For a while he worked in the carpentry shop. But now he seems to have found his calling in the children’s wheelchair shop, where Gabriel and Martin Perez, who are also spinal-cord injured, have taken him under their wings.

You can learn more about Alejandro and many other disabled children who have participated in the very innovative problem-solving process at PROJIMO, by reading our new book, NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US, by David Werner.

To order this exciting book, see the buff flyer.

From “Four Women with Spinal Cord Injury: Their Different Mobility Needs”

An excerpt from David Werner’s new book Nothing About Us Without Us

Rita lives in the mountains of Mexico in a small, pole-walled hut. She broke her lower back when she fell carrying water from a ravine. Like Mira, Rita’s fancy wheelchair is of little use at home. She cannot ride it on the rough, narrow trails. Her hut has 2 small rooms for 8 people. The tiny kitchen has a big mud stove and no room to move around in a wheelchair. The kitchen counter, also made of mud, is at a height made for working standing up. And there is no space under it to position a wheel-chair. There is simply no way for Rita to move or work effectively in her wheelchair.

Solution: If after her accident, Rita’s rehabilitation workers had involved her in thinking through her therapy and assistive equipment, they might have found more useful alternatives. They would have realized how unsuited her environment is for a wheelchair (especially a clumsy, oversized one). Because her injury was low on her spine (L4), it may make more sense to see if she can learn to walk with crutches—or at least figure out a way to stand up to work in the kitchen. To do this, leg braces might help: possibly simple, lightweight ones made from plastic (see Part 2).

To prepare for standing and walking, Rita will need an exercise program (1) to strengthen her arms and upper body, and (2) to maintain or increase the range of motion of her hips and knees. If she can gradually stretch her hips and knee joints until they bend backwards a little, she may be able to stand and even walk (with crutches) without the need for long-leg braces. She can do this by “locking” her legs in a back-knee position, and by leaning her upper body backwards to stabilize her hips. She may even be able to work standing up, with her hands free (without her crutches).

By leaning backwards over her hips, Rita can keep her body upright, even with no strength in her lower back. (To prevent doubling forward, her center of gravity must be behind her hips.) With knees bent back, she can bear weight on her weak legs.

Simple below-the-knee plastic braces prevent foot-drop and help her avoid ankle-twisting on rough paths.

Rocker-bottom shoes allow a smoother gait (walking). A flat area in the middle of the shoe soles permits greater stability for standing permits greater stability for standing

A slight downward angle of the foot pushes the knee back, adding stability.

With practice, Rita should be able to work standing in the kitchen. A strap around her hips may let her work more freely and securely.

With effort, she may even learn to walk with crutches on the steep trails. But she will need to develop good balance, strong arms, and not get over-weight.

Perhaps the best solution for travel on the steep trails will be for Rita to learn to ride the family donkey.