WALLA WALLA -- As the electric wheelchair was wheeled into the room, an entire group of smiling people turned to see the reaction of its new owner.
No one knew quite what to do, however, when their eyes fell upon Alvaro Lamprea quietly sobbing, wiping away tears as fast as he could.
The moment had been several weeks in the making. When a Sept. 26 story ran in the Union-Bulletin explaining Lamprea had lost his leg in an accident caused by a drunken driver, it set off a chain of events in at least one household.
Reading about the life Lamprea had to rebuild after the July accident left him comatose for nearly a month got her thinking, said Joy Robinson, who retired last month from a 36-year career with the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Five years ago, Robinson discovered what it means to need help with mobility. Years of joint problems had forced the executive secretary into bilateral knee surgery. She needed an electric wheelchair for some time afterward, she said. "It allowed me to go on two-mile 'walks' and connect with nature."
Robinson fully recovered, but still had that chair. Relegated to a storage area, it was simply taking up space.
And there was Lamprea, trying to roll to appointments all over town in a manual wheelchair -- using a shoulder that had incurred its own damage in the car wreck.
It turned out Robinson's husband Larry was having the same thought. The couple considered together, then connected with Lamprea's physical therapist, Mark McComas, at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, recalled Joy as she sat next to Lamprea at the hospital on Wednesday.
The chair will be very beneficial, McComas noted. Even when Lamprea adjusts to a permanent prosthetic, "he will need the chair for long distances and when he gets tired."
The recipient-to-be could not stop smiling and swinging his legs -- including his temporary prosthetic one -- while he and everyone else waited for the chair to arrive.
Again and again, Lamprea thanked Robinson, who initially shied away from allowing her name to be linked to the good deed.
"And, with your permission, I will pass the chair on to someone else when I'm done," he said.
"It's yours to do with what you want," she said. "That will be fine."
The chair arrived at the St. Mary Rehabilitation Center at the hands of specialists from Green and Jackson Medical. The Walla Walla medical supply company had given the chair a tune up and new inner tubes, as well as contributing new gel-and-foam seat cushions. All without charge.
"Whenever we can do something like that, it's awesome," said store owner Darcey Benzel. "This will be nice for him. It's an older model, but those are the work horses."
For Lamprea, it was one kind gesture too many for his emotional threshold. As his tears flowed, Robinson swooped down to offer a hug and a murmur of encouragement.
"Amazing," Lamprea said, his eyes fastened on his new vehicle. In seconds, he was ready to test it.
"Oh, God," he said, sinking into the cushioned seat. "Oh, this is so nice."
As Alberto Sanchez from Green and Jackson did a chair tutorial, Robinson asked Lamprea where he was headed after this.
"Oh, I'm going upstairs to see somebody. Then I'll probably just go home."
No one in the room missed the next second, when realization dawned on Lamprea's face -- for the first time since July, the Walla Walla man could go so much farther in his new chair.
"Oh! I don't know," he joked, a smile spreading from cheek to cheek. "Maybe I'll go to the track."