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How this TMU couple is helping Ukrainians with mobility issues

Kelsea MacKay and Patrick Lloyd have supplied more than 1,000 used wheelchairs, walkers, rollators, canes to Ukraine
By: Irina Vukosavic
June 02, 2023
Patrick Lloyd; Ira Berezhnystska, volunteer for Nova Ukraine; Kelsea MacKay

From left: Patrick Lloyd; Ira Berezhnystska, project manager at Nova Ukraine (external link)  and Kelsea MacKay.

When Kelsea MacKay, a media production grad, and Patrick Lloyd, a third-year politics and governance student, heard about the war in Ukraine, they knew they had to help.

MacKay, who has fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body, related to the challenges faced by people with mobility issues who needed to flee the country. Lloyd also has a disability - chronic migraines that caused him to drop out of high school and pursue a self-taught learning program. They both knew  some Ukrainians would need access to  health aids and decided to do something about it.

So last year, MacKay and Lloyd founded Ability Through Action (external link) . The non-profit organization is focused on removing social and physical limitations that prevent people from participating in society. 

“We are devastated by what is happening there and we felt like we had to jump in to help people with mobility issues,” said MacKay. “While we will never fully understand what they are going through, we will try our best to offer support.”

Kelsea MacKay with mobility devices in the trunk of a car.

MacKay was inspired to help because of her own struggles with fibromyalgia.

For their first initiative, they collect donated, used wheelchairs from Ontario nursing homes and health-care companies and distribute them in Ukraine by working with non-profit and charity organizations. So far they have sent 1,070 mobility devices such as walkers, rollators, canes and wheelchairs to Ukraine.

Their nonprofit is incubated in the Social Ventures Zone (SVZ), one of 10 zones at the university working with innovators to develop their socially minded businesses. Lloyd says the SVZ helped them create a focused business plan and meet other entrepreneurs with similar passions and goals. 

Last August, MacKay and Lloyd visited Ukraine to get video footage for fundraising efforts and to meet the nonprofit groups they were working with to distribute the wheelchairs – including Backroads Foundation (external link)  and Nova Ukraine (external link) , which are both dedicated to providing humanitarian aid.

Sergei in a wheelchair, wearing a white hat and shirt.

Sergei is a veteran who shared his journey from being an attack helicopter pilot to becoming a psychologist for injured veterans.

MacKay and Lloyd interviewed Sergei (external link) , an attack helicopter pilot whose plane was shot down in 2014, paralyzing him. He told them about the specific need for active chairs and how the country is not able to provide enough due to supply chain issues. MacKay says he is proof that the right wheelchair allows people to live great lives that are very similar to the ones they had before the injury. 

“It was eerily normal in Lviv in some ways,” said MacKay. “We got coffee, we bought chocolate, and we had a steak dinner. But there are reminders of the war everywhere. Everyone knows someone who is fighting. Everyone has lost people. Everyone lives in fear of strikes and the air raid sirens regularly go off. It is a beautiful country and its cities hold historical importance as well. To see what they are doing to Mauripol and other cities is honestly devastating.”

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without Patrick,” said MacKay. “A lot of people say don't work with the people you date but having someone you trust makes the scary stuff bearable. We've been together for five years and both know each other so well. We can anticipate what the other person needs a lot of the time and you need someone like that when doing this type of work.”

The duo will be going back to Ukraine this summer to help distribute the next shipment of roughly 1,070 mobility devices. They are also currently in talks with the Alberta Government to see if they can donate active chairs and are looking to donate equipment to other countries in the future.

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