Award recipient just doing his job
Chris Savoie has traveled the world to bring mobility to people in need and maximize their independence. Savoie custom fits wheelchairs for patients around Michigan and throughout the world, often freeing them from a lifetime of confinement.
"I try to be the best at what I do by giving my clients the best and fastest service that they have ever seen," he says.
Savoie is this year's recipient of the 14th annual James Neubacher Award, a memorial to a U-M alumnus and journalist who advocated for acceptance of and full access for people with disabilities.
"We received 49 nominations, and many were outstanding," says Carole Dubritsky, Neubacher Award Committee chair. "There was a good representation of faculty, staff and undergrad students, and alumni. But very quickly, Chris rose to the top."
Savoie works for the University's Wheelchair Seating Service as a certified rehab technology supplier through the National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers (NRRTS). He is an assistive technology supplier with the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America. He also sits on the NRRTS Board and is the review chair for durable medical equipment regional carriers in an area that includes most of the states west of the Mississippi River.
Savoie's day-to-day work showcases his determination and devotion to helping people in need. Fifty- and 60-hour work weeks are the norm for Savoie, who also is in the Division of Kinesiology's Movement Science Program. He takes one course a semester and has about 40 credits to go until graduation.
"I just really love what I do. I love to work with the kids in this field, which is unusual because most people prefer adults. I love to help out the kids and try and get them whatever they want and need," Savoie says. "A lot of times I don't care what insurance they have or who is going to pay for it, as long as they get what they need."
Savoie began working in the rehab technology field almost 10 years ago, while attending Lake Superior State University for athletic training. He ran equipment and supplies back and forth for Cole Rehabilitation Technologies Inc., where his wife Rachael currently works.
"I started as a delivery boy and moved up and up until I got to where I am today," Savoie says.
In his job at U-M, Savoie travels all over Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula. He sometimes journeys as far as British Columbia, the Bahamas and even Vietnam. He took a trip to Vietnam from his own vacation time and paid for it out of his own pocket.
He and a colleague took 167 wheelchairs to the people of North and South Vietnam through a program called Wheels for Humanity. They fitted the chairs and taught local therapists proper maintenance. After realizing the therapists did not have the appropriate equipment to perform even the simplest repairs, Savoie donated his own tools.
"Chris is clearly dedicated to helping people with disabilities, no matter where they are. He has demonstrated that in his job and truly lives it out in his personal life," Dubritsky says. "His selection was unanimous. And we are heartened by the many others throughout this institution who work for a community of complete access for persons with disabilities."
Yet even with all the attention surrounding the award and his outstanding service to the disabled community, Savoie feels as though he's just doing his job.
"I am excited to receive this award. I don't feel as though I have done anything to deserve it, but I guess I have," he says. "I feel like all that I have done is my job and nothing extra."
For more information about the James Neubacher Award, visit http://www.umich.edu/~hraa/ability . Nominations for 2004 will be accepted in early spring.