Jorge Luis Vargas Candela is 37 years old and lives in the community of Nueva Esperanza, Pamplona. He suffers from Polio which he contracted from an expired Polio vaccination at the age of 1; this vaccination was a donation and caused serious physical disabilities for many children in Lima in the year of 1977. While a lawsuit ensued, calling for compensation for those affected, for Jorge the damage was already done. As a result of the vaccine he lost the use of his right arm and his legs became severely disabled, to the extent that he required help walking and only through extensive and expensive surgery was his left arm saved,. For his parents, Jorge’s situation was a burden; his other siblings had to live with their grandparents and his father suffered from depression and alcoholism, leaving only his mother to care for him.
As a child unable to be physically active, school was a high priority however, being accepted into elementary education was difficult as teachers viewed his disability as a barrier to his learning. Luckily, Jorge’s father found a Principle who was willing to give him a chance, and with this opportunity he flourished, making the grades for secondary school and beyond. With an interest in Information Technology and computers he became a professor and taught for a number of years in a local school and he has since worked in a call centre and for Peru’s biggest mobile phone provider.
However, in 2003, he began feeling sharp pains in his back, which eventually prevented him from sleeping, and thus working. He was diagnosed with a side effect of Polio and given medication to deal with the pain, but he became addicted to his painkillers, and was instructed to rest to the point of not walking.
He has now dealt with his addiction, but is confined to a conventional wheelchair in which he cannot propel himself as it requires two hands to push the wheels. At nearly 40 years old, he is isolated by this ill-fitting wheelchair and unemployed through the lack of access for wheelchair users, for example, on public buses.
But this difficult situation has not prevented Jorge from focusing on those in need around him; he has become a community leader and he independently made contact with MEDLIFE to arrange mobile clinics in Spring 2014. He is a rock for his community: helping organise infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks, as well as helping a neighbour through the hardship of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Jorge is not one for drowning in his own sorrows: when I met him he was waiting in the community centre alone, unable to move himself until his nephew arrived to push his wheelchair but all he wanted to talk about was arranging future clinics with MEDLIFE and working with us to improve the lives of those around him. As he pointed out himself; if he can help people from his position now, how many more could he help with the freedom of mobility?
MEDLIFE is fundraising for an electronic mobile wheelchair so that Jorge doesn’t have to rely on his family and friends for mobility. This piece of equipment would give Jorge the freedom that was taken away from him as a baby and, considering how driven he is to help his community, it would change the lives of so many more through hisincreased ability to work.
Now, Joanna, MEDLIFE year intern, have started a campaign to help Jorge. For donations, click here.