Photo by Project Embrace

A compassionate college student has been on a mission to rescue abandoned medical equipment so he can send them to people who need them.

Mohan Sudabattula is the mastermind behind Project Embrace: a nonprofit that collects secondhand crutches, wheelchairs, orthotic braces, walkers, slings, and rehabilitative gear for reuse.

The 23-year-old student and his team of volunteers collect the equipment by scouring the dusty shelves of thrift stores and accepting personal donations from community members. After the gear is cleaned and refurbished, the group sends it to disadvantaged medical facilities around the world.

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“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,” one of the nonprofit volunteers told The Washington Post. “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.”

Sudabattula was first inspired to launch his labor of love several years ago while he was studying at the University of Utah and simultaneously volunteering in the prosthetics department at a nearby hospital.

Whenever one of the patients outgrew a prosthetic, the device would simply be thrown away. Prosthetics can’t be reused because they are specifically fitted to each patient, but Sudabattula couldn’t help but wonder if he could rescue other medical equipment from the trash.

Photo by Project Embrace

He was reminded of a trip that he had taken to India with his parents in 2006 when they brought him to an orphanage for disabled children. Since the youngsters didn’t have access to medical equipment, they had fashioned makeshift wheelchairs out of lawn furniture and bicycle wheels.

Ten years later, Sudabattula returned to the very same orphanage so he could donate several dozen wheelchairs and crutches – all of which were courtesy of Project Embrace.

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Since launching the nonprofit from his apartment in 2016, the group has donated over 900 refurbished medical devices to low-income hospitals in India and the United States.

Just last month, Project Embrace volunteers made their second trip to the Utah-Arizona border so they could donate dozens of wheelchairs and walkers to a rural Navajo Nation hospital.

Photo by Project Embrace

“Often times when it comes to healthcare innovation and design, people tend to opt out of professional conversations because they don’t feel qualified enough to contribute to the discussion,” Sudabattula said in a blog post. “This is ironic because access to healthcare (and healthcare innovation) affects everyone — naturally, everyone should then be involved.

“We give our community an opportunity to get involved and by tracking where individual donations end up going, we can show our community exactly where their impact is being made.

“There have been a lot of slip ups along the road, but founding a cause where everyone feels welcome to contribute to greater health will always be the greatest decision I’ve ever made as a student.”

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