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Richard D. and Dave E., Global Links 'Wheelchair Wranglers'
Richard D. and Dave E., Global Links 'Wheelchair Wranglers'

Life Changing Is ... a Fulfilling Retirement

Richard D. and Dave E., Global Links 'Wheelchair Wranglers'

"What we're doing here, it gets flown away somewhere, and you give someone a chance to have a better life."

Richard and Dave dedicated their careers to helping others. So, as the two longtime medical professionals approached retirement, they both sought meaningful ways to give back.

That led them to pursue volunteer opportunities at Global Links. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit distributes surplus medical items to communities locally and internationally.

UPMC is proud to support Global Links in its mission of improving health outcomes in our communities.

“I felt it was important to get involved with volunteering,” Dave says. “It's fulfilling, and it makes you feel good. I think I owe a lot to contribute back to what society has given me, and this is a place to do it. Plus, it's fun."

Richard and Dave are two of the nonprofit’s six “wheelchair wranglers.” Together, they work to inspect, repair, and clean donated wheelchairs before they're sent to communities in need.

“What we're doing here, it gets flown away somewhere, and you give someone a chance to have a better life," Dave says. "That's pretty good."

Dave and Richard typically volunteer one day a week for three hours. Richard says it takes about two to three volunteer shifts to complete work on a wheelchair.

The most time-consuming aspect, Richard says, is cleaning and disinfecting each wheelchair. Occasionally, some of the wheelchairs arrive in pristine condition. Others have significant wear and tear, especially to the seats and seatbacks.

After several years of working together, Dave and Richard have the repair process down to a science.

“I remember when I first started, I started looking at the list first and then finding the stuff on the chair,” Richard says. “Then, once I got into it, I pretty much start with the chair and then fill the list in afterward. That way we can spot what's wrong. Inevitably, we find more as we go along."

Sometimes the team of wranglers must act fast, like when devastating hurricanes hit Houston, Texas, and Puerto Rico.

“We got an all-hands-on-deck call to come in,” Richard remembers. “We had an order for 150 chairs. Fifty went to Houston. One hundred went to Puerto Rico. And they told us, ‘Don't worry about the cosmetics.’”

Most importantly, Richard says, they got all 150 wheelchairs done in a week.

Keeping the wheels turning

As Dave and Richard entered retirement after distinguished medical careers, neither was interested in sitting idle.

However, they took different paths to becoming “wheelchair wranglers."

For Richard, a retired radiologist, it started when he ran into his ophthalmologist, who was also retired. He mentioned that he and his wife were volunteering at Global Links, so Richard decided to join them.

“I said, ‘Hey, this is fun,’” Richard says of initially helping to pack supplies.

One day, he ventured to the wheelchair workshop and bumped into one of the wranglers.

“I said, ‘I'm interested,’” Richard recalls. “I'm happiest when I have tools in my hand. I'm an amateur carpenter.

"I asked him, ‘How much skill does this take?’ He says, ‘Well, if you can fix a bicycle, (you can do this).’ And he gave me a 10-minute orientation. So, I started working (on wheelchairs), and I've been doing this for about 10 years.”

Dave’s journey to Global Links was much more circuitous, as in about a 9,000-mile round trip.

Originally from Pittsburgh’s North Side, Dave spent most of his career as a neurosurgeon at UPMC Mercy.

Late in his career, Dave and his wife moved to Hawaii. They shipped two cars, moved 40 boxes, and rented a house.

Dave did not stray too far from his medical roots, continuing to work as a neurosurgeon at a hospital in Maui. But the wheels for their return to Pittsburgh were set in motion shortly after arriving.

“We were there for a month, and our middle daughter called. She was pregnant,” Dave says. “I have three girls, and one after another, they had gotten pregnant. My wife was commuting back and forth, and that was a little bit rough.”

Once they moved back to Pittsburgh and Dave was fully retired, he started looking for volunteer opportunities. He was familiar with Global Links from his time in medicine and decided to try volunteering there.

He started in the sorting area and continued there until he, like Richard, wandered to the wheelchair workshop one day. As fate would have it, he found Richard working alone while listening to classical music.

“I asked him if I could join him,” Dave says. “I came back here, and it's been maybe five (or) six years now, just (Richard) and I doing the wheelchairs.

“(Richard) has taught me everything about wheelchairs, so we're both experts in wheelchair salvage right now. We've become good friends doing this.”

At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means making the most of retirement to help others.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities and how you can help support Global Links.

Pittsburgh (KDKA): Pittsburgh-area nonprofit organization collects supplies to distribute to those in need.

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