Last Thursday I met Tim Shride who recently visited Sierra Leone with the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation. He is a prothetist who was there to provide service to the Sierra Leonians. I was amazed that in a town with hardly any running water or electricity they are able to do this work. He showed me pictures of the clinic and the accommodations they use to ensure that amputees in this country are able to become mobile again. I was amazed.
Then on Friday I visited Ray Pye, the Director of Programs at the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation. As an industrial designer, he explained his role in the production of the Seattle Foot which come onto the market in 1986. The Seattle Foot was revolutionary in its design in that a keel in embedded into the core of the rubber foot made of material that is able to store energy. This stored energy is then used as a spring when one walks off the toe of the prosthetic foot.
His experience working on the Seattle Foot laid a foundation for his work with the POF. Ray painted many visual pictures for me as he explained how the Vietnamese manufacture every piece of the prosthetic legs they make. I learned how rubber is made, how a mold is formed, what “vulcanized” means. He explained all the steps the POF has taken with the Vietnamese to ensure that every part of the legs made in Vietnam are made in Vietnam – down to the small hardware. I left with a full head.
I was barraged with the myriad of luxuries we have in America when I thought about all the basic needs that are so hard to access in developing countries. This lack requires dedication, ingenuity and tenacity by all the folks who produce prosthetic limbs these countries.
Each country is so different in its needs and cultures, but one fact seems to thread its way through each one: amputees are undervalued members of society unless they are mobile and able to contribute to the basic day to day functioning. All it takes is $300.