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Eric Quander: Smiles From Nowhere 

By Mr. Q
Mr. Q (Eric Quander)

Depression is one of the dreadful beasts we, as amputees, must conquer many times on the journey to balance and peace.

I found myself grappling with that monster back in March, a month prior to my 52nd birthday. Perhaps I fell into the mental fog due to the lack of work for my construction company and the costs to repair broken equipment and vehicles that I wasn’t sure I would ever be using again. I felt a deep stirring to get out of the desert town I’ve called home for nigh 20 years, and see, do, and be something different for a while

But where to? 

I wanted to be someplace inexpensive, accessible, and tropical; someplace where the people and pace were completely different than what I have become used to; someplace to turn my frown upside down. Aahhhh, yes—the Land of Smiles! Thailand!

In my melancholia, I’d found a bit of comfort in the many videos of expats living abroad. Gambia, Vietnam, and Romania were just a few of the countries inviting Westerners to ditch the weights and worries and expenses associated with living a middle-class life in the “First World” in exchange for a stress-free existence. Thailand came highly recommended to Westerners wishing to experience a very cost-effective, laid-back environment.

The creators of these videos ranged from 20-somethings taking a few years to see the world, to working parents who’d shifted their priorities, to retirees doing whatever they can to stretch their nest-egg dollars. Following farang (Thai word for foreigner) videographers as they ambled, walked, and scootered the quaint sois (streets) and villages, I determined that Thailand was where I wanted to be. 

When I began reading about the country’s amputee community, I learned that, due to a variety of factors, too many Thai amputees do not have prostheses. That’s when I started to pair my desire for escape with a desire to help other amputees gain mobility. And when I came across Penta Medical Recycling, a New York-based organization that provides used prosthetic devices and components to limb-loss organizations around the world, I knew I’d found the perfect partner. 

Eventually I got connected to Henry Iseman, who founded Penta in 2016. He and his team were excited about my trip, and we started exploring how I might support their mission. I mentioned these conversations to my prosthetist at Hanger Clinic in Rancho Mirage, and the entire staff there immediately pledged to donate some prosthetic technology for me to distribute to Thai amputees. I contacted some other limb-loss and disability organizations both stateside and in Thailand, generating more ideas for how to make my visit most beneficial. 

I ended up with a new title—Global Mobility Ambassador for Penta Medical Recycling—and a new pathway out of the foggy frontier I’d been trapped in. I spent several months flailing against some indecipherable, unnameable thing. The impending threat of another pandemic wave, inflated prices at every turn, and communication problems within my marriage weakened my spirit and made my mind and body ache. I felt slow, melancholy, lethargic. 

The chance to reconnect, commune, and create positive change was incredibly energizing. That was only reinforced by a chance meeting with fitness YouTuber Brian Turner, who travels the country in his van providing health tips to travelers. We began talking about his journeys, and he extolled the great time ahead of me in Thailand. As the conversation turned to the joys of service and the factors that make a video go viral, Brian shared some wisdom that I know to be true: “We so help ourselves, when we help others.” Right on, lil’ brother!

From my funk has arisen a new set of opportunities I couldn’t have imagined three months ago. I have connected with a global community and found a new mission to help amputees gain mobility. I’ve built relationships with people in a land I have never been to, and I anticipate unforeseen blessings and smiles as I commit to helping as many as I can. I’m eager to learn how people with disabilities are viewed in society and in the media in other countries, and I’m curious how those cultures are working toward greater accessibility and inclusion. 

It’s inevitable that “a change is gonna come.” I am not sure what all to expect, but I’m excited to see what’s next. I’m off!

Eric Quander (Mr. Q) is a writer, actor, and digital content creator. Follow his amputee adventures in Thailand online at www.heismrq.com.

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