Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees

by Bolivians Without Disabilities
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Prosthetic Limbs for 50 Poor Bolivian Amputees
Justo standing on his new prosthetic leg
Justo standing on his new prosthetic leg

 

Our monthly “patient-in-focus” story is about a recent low-income amputee. Justo is now walking again due to the work of our Bolivian partner, and another grant from Bolivians Without disAbilities. Many patients are like Justo – going about their daily lives until tragedy strikes. Here is Justo’s story:

The Accident Happened
“I used to work as a window glazier in a small glass company. I am a very careful worker, but one day I slashed my left foot on a fragment of glass. Unfortunately, I feared that if I left work to visit a doctor that I would risk losing my job. It was possible that someone else who could work the whole day would take it. So I hastily bandaged my foot and continued with my work. But over the course of the next year, the wound did not heal despite my best efforts to clean it and re-dress the bandage regularly.

They Took My Leg
A friend of mine who is a doctor took a look at my foot. He shook his head and explained how badly infected my entire leg was with gangrene. He urged me to go to the hospital because he was convinced that I should get my leg amputated. When I heard this I became severely depressed. Here in Bolivia losing a leg is almost always a sure way to lose your livelihood. I wanted to die rather than lose my leg and my only means to support my wife and children. My family had to convince me to have the surgery.

We didn’t have the money to pay the medical bills from the larger, safer hospitals in the capital so I first went to a cheaper local hospital. After 3 days in this hospital, having not been seen by any doctors and with many of the other patients around me dying, my condition continued to worsen. My wife took me to another hospital and proclaimed, “I don’t care how much it costs, please just save my husband.” In this second hospital, I was seen by doctors who confirmed that I needed an amputation of my left leg since the gangrene was very advanced.

I had to undergo a series of three operations. The first was below the knee. After the surgery it was determined that not all of the infection had been cut off. So I needed a second surgery. And then a third before the doctors were fully satisfied that the infection had been removed. Each time they had cut higher and higher. By the end they had removed my leg to a point above my knee. I thought about killing myself, but I knew that I couldn’t leave my wife and son alone, and so I continued on.

My Life Savings Were Exhausted
After I got out of the hospital everything changed for me and my family. For the first month after my operation, while I was still recovering in hospital, my family and friends would visit me frequently. Friends initially brought gifts of food, however, after a month, this support dwindled and my family and I found ourselves alone. Since I was unable to provide an income to support us our money quickly ran out.

When I was finally healed enough I found another job as a window glazier, but I was unable to undertake the work alone. My wife and young son had to accompany me to work every day. They had to do much of the heavy lifting and ensure that I didn’t fall over or have any other accidents at work. Even though the company was only paying for one person, they didn’t like this arrangement and I was let go again.

I Am Hopeful For My Future
Now that I have received a new prosthetic limb and I can walk again, I plan to find a new job. My young son to return to school. I will pay off my remaining medical bills, and I will support my family again. I am very hopeful for my future.

Thank you.
Justo”

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Angela with new leg
Angela with new leg

Angelica received a prosthetic limb in 2017 and here is what she told us:

“My leg was amputated on October 21st, 2016, but the full story begins months before that. I was an employee at a Silver Mine in Potosi.” (Historical note: Potosi was one of the richest cities in the world in the 1600’s due to the abundance of silver that was found there – and thousands of Bolivians still eke out a living there today toiling under dangerous conditions in the mining industry.)

“My job was to tend the machine that would melt silver, to make sure no one would come in during this process. I enjoyed my job and family life. Then one day I fell and fractured my femur just above the knee and had to go to the hospital where I had surgery to correct the bone. In most modern procedures, one would put a plate and screws into the bone to ensure it healed correctly. But due to a lack of resources, knowledge or skill, the doctors cut corners and decided that putting only screws in, without the plate, would be enough to heal the fractured bone. As you may guess, it didn’t solve the issue, but it caused me a great deal of pain. I wasn’t even able to move my knee following the surgery. After some time passed, the immobile knee and leg became increasingly painful. I went back to the doctor who did the surgery and asked for help. This doctor was rather curt, rude and mean. He didn’t take the time to listen to my problems. So he insisted on forcing my knee to bend. Instead of helping me, he caused not only the second fracture but also caused the screws to tear out of the bone and into the flesh. This caused my such significant pain that I required a private doctor’s visit. I have 3 children and a luxury like that was an absolute last resort. But the pain was so awful I felt like I had no other option.“

“At this visit, the doctor discovered a very large lump on my leg, but his office did not have the resources to be able to do a biopsy. He recommended that I go to a hospital in La Paz to seek further treatment. This private doctor even asked me “who did that last awful surgery to you???”.  I followed my second doctor’s instruction and traveled a long distance from Potosi to La Paz to have more tests completed. After a week an oncologist declared that it was a tumor and they would need to amputate the leg. Less intensive options were not given to me. I had no choice, the leg had to go to save my life. I had to keep on living for my children’s sake. “

My life changed dramatically from this loss. I have three children to support, no job and no husband since he died years ago. I have a lot of stress and concern to manage. In addition, I now rely on my children’s help for almost everything. I rely on my oldest daughter to travel with me to help support me up and down steps. I am totally dependent on others as I am not able to independently interact with my community. I frequently get laughed at in the market due to my amputation. I have endured a lot of physical and emotional pain from this injury, but I refuse to give up. I try to maintain a great deal of hope, and look forward to all the things I will be able to do again with my new limb.”

“My life changed dramatically from this loss. I have three children to support, no job and no husband since he died years ago. I have a lot of stress and concern to manage. In addition, I now rely on my children’s help for almost everything. I rely on my oldest daughter to travel with me to help support me up and down steps. I am dependent on others help as I am not able to independently interact with my community. I frequently get laughed at in the market due to my amputation. I have endured a lot of physical and emotional pain from this injury, but I refuse to give up and I try to maintain a great deal of hope, and look forward to all the things I will be able to do again with my new limb.”

“I have two primary things that I look forward to doing. First I would like to get my dignity and self-respect back by retaking my role as the primary caregiver of my household. Secondly, I would like to increase my independence – I would like to return to working in the silver mines and earning money to support my family and all this will help me to put an end to the discrimination I feel every day as a helpless amputee”

“Thank You!, Angelica"

(Note, as always, this story was translated into English).

Every month your ongoing donations will give ever more amputees like Angelica a new lease on life and an opportunity to regain their livelihood and happiness.

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Residual limb
Residual limb

Alfredo has received a prosthetic leg from our partner, FUNPROBO, in May 2017, and this is the story he told us:

“It was 1:30 in the afternoon in early August 2004 and I was working next to some train tracks. I needed to go to the bathroom, which was on the other side of the tracks, and as I stepped onto them, I suddenly noticed that a train was speeding towards me. I hadn’t seen the train at first because of all the little shacks and vendors which line the tracks. It is always a very dangerous situation and location but it is the only life that people know.”

“I tried to escape, however, the train was approaching too fast, I stumbled, and my leg was trapped under it. Thankfully the train stopped and the driver, along with some of my neighbors, came to my aid. I was in agonizing pain. My wife, son and one of the neighbors took me to the hospital as soon as they could. Unfortunately, in order to save me, they amputated my leg since it had been crushed and there was no hope to ever be able to use it again. A week later, another operation was performed to clean and remove an infection that had begun in my wound. This required me to stay in the hospital another 20 days to recuperate and rest, but this drained what little savings I had.”

“My entire life I have been very active. I was made to be moving, not glued to a bed. For the first month, the accident made me very depressed, but then I decided do something about it after I got out of the hospital. I couldn’t afford to buy a prosthetic leg, so I decided to make my own from any materials I could find, such as scrap metal, plastic and wood. Although very basic, this leg allowed me to return to work and start my life again. Since the amputation, I have made 3 or 4 different prosthetics. Over time, I was able to resume a lot of my normal activities, including organizing a football team and championship where I live in the countryside and participating in the folkloric traditions of my town, playing instruments and even dancing Tinku. These activities keep me going in life. However, my homemade prosthetics have never been anything but uncomfortable for me, so I was extremely excited when I heard about the opportunity to have a real prosthetic made for me at FUNPROBO.”

“With my new leg, I will no longer be in constant pain, as I have been for nearly 13 years. I am ready to move forward with more force and life especially for my children and family. Without the constantly falling with my current prosthetic, I will be able to participate more fully in the sporting and folkloric activities in my town, which I love. I want to be a role model for people with disabilities; to show them that they should not give up and that they too are allowed to have hope and strength.”

“Thank you FUNPROBO.

Alfredo”

home made leg using steel and wood
home made leg using steel and wood
Walking today
Walking today

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Last week we were invited to attend a Bolivian government initiated meeting to discuss the state of prosthetics and orthotics in the country. Or rather, to discuss the lack of P&O capability. The national Ministry of health had the largest delegation, but also in attendance were representatives from the Ministry of the Vice President. International organizations represented were Handicap International, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Of all the groups, FUNPROBO, our partner and the reciever of these donations, was the only organization which actually produces prosthetic limbs and almost all of the government representatives were very surprised to know that FUNPROBO even existed. We found this quite shocking since FUNPROBO provides more prosthetic limbs then any other governmental, or non-governmental organization in the country. The plan is to meet monthly to strategize and plan how to improve the ability to provide more and better prosthetic limbs at a national level. We hope that this meeting will be the linchpin to get more local support for FUNPROBO, as well as possibly some international help.

letter of invitation
letter of invitation
meeting hall
meeting hall
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waiting room full of patients
waiting room full of patients

Our March campaign is now over and your generosity has launched us way over our first goal of getting more then 40 donors.  We also closed out the campaign with a little over $5500 which will allow us to provide limbs to one additional patient then the eight that we had initially targeted.

In case you’re curious how we apply these funds, here is a quick peek into a typical day at the clinic:

Last week we had a crazy busy day in the clinic. It felt like more and more patients just kept coming, and I wondered how we were going to handle all six patients.  

  • Two of the patients have been coming in for the past few weeks to do physical therapy and prepare for their new prosthetic legs. Christian, our volunteer physical therapist from Germany, has been working hard with these two patients.  Their physical abilities have improved dramatically.
  • One of these patients, who had been wheelchair-bound up until this point, finally strapped on her prosthetic leg and walked for 10 minutes. This was the first time this patient has walked since she lost her leg.  She was ecstatic!
  • We also had two other previous patients back for repairs. Minor weight gain (or loss) can render their sockets very uncomfortable, and we have to make adjustments. No prosthetic leg lasts forever; a major part of our job is to maintain all previous 325 patients. 
  • We also served a new patient today. He was from a city in the Amazon basin, and he was having a very difficult time with the altitude here in La Paz at 13,000 feet. The patient had to return to his hotel to rest, and he will return tomorrow.
  • The last patient was missing his right arm below the elbow. Pieter, our volunteer 3D printer engineer from Belgium, eagerly measured the patient for a prosthetic arm.
  • Costis, our other volunteer engineer, has been working hard to master 3D printed hands. Costis was busy today trying to invent a new mechanism to allow the hand to flex in a more useful manner.
  • Last, but not least, our newest volunteer, Jacob (USA) joined us in the clinic today. Jacob's specialty is photography, and he is working on producing a new video of the centers work.  I will report back on the video project, as soon as it is completed.

I hope this helps you to understand how critical your donations are to our work. We are so grateful for your support!

Thank you,

Matthew Pepe

Founder and President of Bolivians Without disAbilities

Angela walking for the first time
Angela walking for the first time
Angela smiling
Angela smiling
Miguel standing tall
Miguel standing tall
Miguel laughing
Miguel laughing
Brigida walking outside
Brigida walking outside
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Organization Information

Bolivians Without Disabilities

Location: Indn Hbr Bch, FL - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Bolivians_Disab
Project Leader:
matthew pepe
Indn Hbr Bch, FL United States

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