Credit: Project Embrace
Though Mohan Sudabattula’s parents immigrated to West Jordan, Utah 30 years ago, the culture and people of India are still close to the family. When Sudabattula was just 10 years old, his parents took him on a trip to their ancestral village. They partook in the tasks that all tourists do—they visited landmarks important to the family and the history of their country—but this isn’t the part that stuck with Sudabattula.
His mother felt it was important for the emerging young man to visit an orphanage and school for disabled children. At age 23, Sudabattula still vividly recalls the smiling faces of the children with missing limbs and lawn chairs with bicycle tires attached to serve as wheelchairs. In spite of their situations, they greeted him warmly.
Perhaps this is what inspired him to volunteer measuring disabled children for prosthetics at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City during his time as a triple major at the University of Utah. It was rewarding to see children fit for prosthetics that made a difference. Giving how quickly children grow, however, children were constantly being refit for new prosthetics that could not be reused due to the customization for the child.
This got Sudabattula thinking about the children back in India who did not have proper mobility equipment. How many wheelchairs, walkers, or crutches could he find discarded in the corner of someone’s dusty basement, or left behind at a thrift shop?
“I knew that something as simple as a pair of crutches would change a person’s life,” he says.
After what seemed like endless amounts of research alongside his already existing homework and exams, Sudabattula created Project Embrace. Since July 2017, the nonprofit has collected gently used wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, orthotic shoes, and braces to be cleaned and redistributed to the disabled children and adults who can’t afford them.
“I learned to fit a lot into my Prius, so our living room was always full of wheelchairs and piles of donated medical equipment,” Sudabattula says. “Everywhere you looked, there were crutches propped up against the wall. My roommates were incredibly patient.”
Shortly after opening the nonprofit, Sudabattula returned to that same orphanage in India a decade later, but not empty handed. With several large boxes in tow, Sudabattula gave away crutches and walkers to the children who had nothing.
Through his own search, the help of friends, and word of mouth, over 500 pieces of mobility equipment have been given to people of Utah, India, and Swaziland. As word spread, the group set up a website and began raking in offers of donations and help. The nonprofit no longer operates in Sudabattula’s apartment—the University of Utah donated a free storage unite in Salt Lake County for the group to continue improving lives across the world.
Project Embrace’s marketing director, Zac Fox says the most reward aspect of the job is meeting people who donate equipment their loved ones once used.
“For somebody whose spouse used a wheelchair or walker before they passed away, it’s hard to think of that equipment going into the trash,” says Fox. “When they give it to us, they feel like they’ve given it a second life. And then to see the recipient’s face light up — that’s extremely rewarding.”
Recently, the organization took a U-Haul to the Utah-Arizona border to deliver mobility supplies for the Navajo Nation. Some Navajo families travel more than 200 miles to see a physician. At that Utah Navajo Health System, nurses scramble with their limited supplies, trying to determine which patient out of 12 deserves the one wheelchair they have.
Now, the hospital doesn’t have to worry about rationing supplies. Sudabattula and Project Embrace delivered 80 medical devices, including 15 wheelchairs, and they plan to come back with more. With people like Mohan Sudabattula and the staff at Project Embrace in the world, those in need can finally get the help the deserve.
To donate to Project Embrace, visit their website.