This Student Has Collected Hundreds of Wheelchairs to Give to the Needy

Project Embrace collects, sanitizes, and redistributes medical devices to patients worldwide who otherwise have trouble accessing them.

Jul 12, 2019

Mohan Sudabattula’s parents took their son on a trip that would change his life. At 10-years-old, he accompanied his parents from their home in Utah to their family’s ancestral village in India. During the trip, Sudabattula’s mother took him to visit family, historic landmarks, and an orphanage and school for disabled children. Now, 23, Sudabattula vividly recalls that some of the children who were missing limbs were using discarded lawn chairs with bicycle tires for wheels as makeshift wheelchairs. 

Though the scene was shocking, what surprised him most was that the bad conditions didn’t seem to affect the children’s demeanors. “Most of them were still laughing and smiling and happy to meet us,” he told the Washington Post.

After their trip, Sudabattula often thought about those kids and how they “didn’t even have a proper wheelchair.”

That was the inspiration behind his idea to help those in wheelchairs--in India and in his own neighborhood. In 2016, Sudabattula attending the University of Utah and volunteering at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City, measuring disabled children for prosthetics. During his shifts, he saw that children weren’t comfortable with their prosthetics and quickly outgrew them, and those materials would go to waste.

When staff would throw away the prosthetics--as each piece is fully customized to each child-- Sudabattula remembered those kids back in India with their run-down, improvised wheelchairs. Then he thought of the potential unused mobility equipment sitting in people’s homes or attics that could go to those in need.

"I knew that something as simple as a pair of crutches would change a person's life,” he said.

From this realization, Sudabattula founded Project Embrace out of his dorm room — a nonprofit that collects gently used wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, slings, orthotic shoes and braces and donates them to those who couldn’t afford them. As of July 2017, the altruist estimates he’s provided around 500 pieces of equipment for low-income people in Utah and also to organizations that help the disabled in India and Swaziland.

The nonprofit grew from temporarily housing the equipment he and his friends found in thrift stores or via donations in his living room to operating out of a storage unit in Salt Lake County and office space donated by the University of Utah.

Shortly after creating his charity, Sudabattula went back to the same orphanage he’d visited with his parents during their trip to India. Only this time he came prepared--bringing boxes filled with crutches and walkers.

“When it comes down to it, I feel a duty to help the people around me,” he said. “Everyone deserves to be healthy and happy.”

Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.