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Occupational Therapy students surprise client with new wheelchair for Christmas

Jennifer Reynolds/The Daily News

Wheelchair gift

Susie Dezelle, left, a second year occupational therapy student at the University of Texas Medical Branch, and Karen Aranha, an assistant professor, help Emmanuel Ibarra into his new wheelchair Friday Dec. 4, 2015.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 12:00 am

The last day of class for Susie Dezelle was different Friday than it had been in past semesters.

One of her classmates dressed as Santa Claus, and the students waited patiently for a client they've been working with for almost a year.

Dezelle, the president of the Student Occupational Therapy Association at the University of Texas Medical Branch, worked for about six weeks alongside fellow students to raise money.

The organization took part in a profit-sharing event with Orange Leaf, a frozen yogurt shop, held a bake sale, and an adaptive equipment olympics, in which students voted by donating money on which professors they'd like to compete against each other. The top five professors who raised the most money competed in various events.

"Our group has raised money for various charities, but this is our first very targeted fundraising effort," Dezelle said. "I'm excited about it. It feels really good to see a need and know that you're filling that need."

When Emmanuel Ibarra entered the classroom with his father, students started clapping. For a moment, Ibarra was confused. But then a new wheelchair, decorated with streamers, rolled in behind him and he put his head in his hands.

"For one second my heart is out," Ibarra said. "It means so much to me, and I will be more comfortable. I'm so thankful." Ibarra was in an accident about 10 years ago that resulted in his confinement to a wheelchair. Students have been working with him at St. Vincent's House, which offers a student-run clinic.

"He uses a wheelchair for mobility," Dezelle said. "And the wheelchair he uses now is broken. There's a part that hits against his leg and hurts him."

Karen Aranha, assistant professor for the Department of Occupational Therapy, was in attendance, and started to tear up a little when speaking to the class.

"It is that smile on (Ibarra's) face that has motivated us all, and has made St. Vincent's such an enjoyable place to work," she said.

The chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, Patricia Fingerhut, also came to show her support.

"It's very impressive," she said. "They're very dedicated students. They're here on a very intensive program, so their time outside of class and studying is very limited, and yet they have taken on all of these projects and really are exemplifying what we're trying to teach them." Ibarra speaks mostly Spanish. So after he cut the streamer off the seat of his new wheelchair, a student went over the ins and outs of using it with him and his father in Spanish.

"It's been really fun (to work with Ibarra.) He lets me speak Spanish to him without laughing at me, which is great. He's a really fun guy to work with, and he's very patient with us," Dezelle said.

As class time came to an end, and the student dressed as Santa took his costume off, Fingerhut sums up the morning.

"(The students) are seeing their clients as people, most importantly, and not as a condition," she said. "They're looking at changing people's quality of life, and I'm proud of them."

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