Most people don't realize that it often takes months to order and receive a wheelchair that meets the specifications prescribed by a rehab specialist for an individual. But Johnnie Tuitel knows.
Not only has he owned umpteen chairs himself, but the nonprofit organization he founded in 1995, Alternatives in Motion, has purchased over 400 wheelchairs and electric carts for people who need them.
Oh yeah, Johnnie knows.
So why, in the second week of December 1999, did Johnnie promise an elementary student named Israel that he would have a new power chair in time for Christmas? "It just slipped out of my mouth," Johnnie said. "I was the speaker at St. Jude's Catholic School. When I entered the building, I noticed a boy in a manual wheelchair that was meant for someone twice his size. His mother had to push the chair for him because Israel's disabilities prevented him from being able to push it himself. I looked at him and said, ‘Hey! You need a new chair. Maybe we can help you.'
"The principal, who had greeted me, said, ‘We already put in an application to your organization months ago.' And that's when it happened. I heard myself say, ‘Israel, I promise, you'll have your new chair by Christmas.'"
All the way back to his office, Johnnie applied mental duct tape to his mouth. Even if they had the funds available, which they didn't, there was no way a new chair could be ordered, fitted, shipped and received in time for Christmas.
Meanwhile, back at the Alternatives in Motion's "Hall of Justice," the phone rang. "Hey! This is Cole Rehab calling. Remember a couple months ago you had a woman call in and say she'd like to donate her husband's power chair that he had used only a couple of times before he died? Well, we finally got around to checking it out, and it's in unbelievable shape. Here are the specs in case you get a request for a chair this size."
When Johnnie came inching his way into the office to let the whole staff know that he was the Grinch who was about to steal Christmas, his business partner George Ranville greeted him. "Guess what?" George began. And then he related the whole Cole Rehab story.
"What are the chair's measurements?" Johnnie asked—and then proceeded to tell his tale of woe.
A quick trip to the file produced Israel's application. Inch for inch, centimeter for centimeter, it matched the specs on the power chair that Cole Rehab had called about.
Do you know what the chances are of having a donated chair match exactly the specifications of a potential recipient? Not even Johnnie knows that. No one knows that—except maybe the One who orchestrated it from the very beginning.