Gift of hope and mobility

Limbs for Life Prostheses Centre is an initiative to help poor amputees who cannot afford an artificial limb.

LOSING a limb is traumatic. Besides the mental anguish, amputees have to live with the physical disability. After the wound has healed, the amputee will find that his mobility is impaired, and may even risk losing his job.

If he cannot afford a prosthetic limb, he has to move around with a crutch or be wheelchair-bound. Those who are fitted with prosthetic limbs have to learn to regain their independence.

There are about 400,000 amputees in the country who have lost their limbs due to congenital disorders, automobile or industrial accidents, and diseases such as diabetes, leprosy and cancer.

It costs between RM8,000 and RM15,000 to fit a prosthetic limb, and takes 14 days to produce one. Once fitted, these prosthetic limbs need to be serviced and maintained. They have to be replaced every five or six years due to wear and tear. The cost is prohibitive for poor or underprivileged families.

The Bandar Utama Buddhist Society (BUBS) came up with an initiative to help poor amputees. Limbs for Life (LFL) Prostheses Centre was set up in May last year to offer free artificial limbs to deserving amputees, regardless of race or religion.

“The project allows amputees to live a full life again. It is funded by corporate and public donations,” said Chiam Swee Ann, chairman of the LFL project. Currently, the society has collected over RM1.4mil for the project.

LFL Prostheses Centre was set up in cooperation with The Prostheses Foundation of HRH The Princess Mother of Thailand, to produce affordable prosthetic limbs which cost RM3,000 to RM5,000.

This was followed by a transfer of technology and know-how in making prosthetic limbs, and the supply of machinery, equipment, prosthetic parts and materials.

The foundation based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was founded by Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother, in 1992 when she learnt that Assoc Prof Dr Therdchai Jivacate had invented prostheses from recycled plastic that cost 10 times less than imported ones.

Dr Therdchai, a Thai orthopaedic surgeon, is well known for his humanitarian work in providing free prosthetic limbs to the poor.

The foundation sends mobile clinics to Malaysia and on each trip, some 100 prosthetic limbs would be given away. Over the last 10 years, 1,500 amputees have benefited from this project.

LFL Prostheses Centre is modelled after the foundation. It is located in the Bandar Utama Buddhist Society’s building in Petaling Jaya. The centre has a team of volunteer doctors from University Malaya Medical Centre and other hospitals in the Klang Valley.

The first recipient of the centre’s prosthetic limb was former lorry driver R. Paramasivam. He received his prosthetic leg in October last year. Paramasivam, who is in his 30s, became unemployed after losing his limb but ended up working for the centre as a technician who makes prosthetic limbs.

“To date, 12 amputees have benefited from this project, said Chiam. “Presently, five amputees are on the waiting list. So far, 30 amputees have applied for free prostheses.”

About 30% of cases cannot be fitted with artificial limbs and amputees are advised to look after their stumps and return later for fitting.

“It takes six hours to make a prosthetic limb below the knee and two days for one above the knee,” said Chiam.

“The centre fits the limbs for free for those who can’t afford them. For those who can, we ask for a donation of RM3,000,” said society president Lim Ah Bah.

Aluminium, steel and plastic are used to make the artificial limbs using the PF-modified sand casting method which is environmentally-friendly.

The artificial limbs made here are comparable to the ones produced in Thailand because the centre uses the same equipment and materials.

The prosthetic limbs are also made using the same technique developed by Dr Therdchai, secretary-general of The Prostheses Foundation in Thailand. The centre’s technicians are also trained at the foundation.

Dr Therdchai and Dr Vajara Rujiwetpong-storn, deputy secretary-general of the foundation, were in town recently to attend the launch of LFL Prostheses Centre.

The LFL project offers hope and mobility to amputees by enabling them to overcome their handicap and lead a productive life. BUBS believes every life is precious and everyone is capable of achieving his full potential. This gift of hope is also extended to the spouses, children and family members who are caregivers.

Limb for Life plans to give out 200 free prosthetic limbs in its first year. It also offers to service, repair and maintain existing ones. In future, the centre may offer suitable amputees work as technicians when the opportunity arises.

“Losing a limb is a sad experience. An amputee can also lose motivation. You can see happiness written all over the face of the amputee who gets a new limb. Some amputees who cannot afford artificial limbs have been on the waiting list of the Welfare Department for a few years,” said prosthetist Teo Eve Vonne, 25, the centre’s manager.

Teo has a degree in biomedical engineering from Universiti Malaya; she majored in prosthetic and orthotics. Teo works closely with technician Muhammad Shafie Wahab to make prosthetic limbs.

Teo encourages amputees to practise walking with their new prosthetic legs. Those who lose both legs have to go to the hospital for physiotherapy, and learn to exercise by walking up and down the stairs with their artificial legs.

Recently, Perdana University in Serdang, Selangor, and BUBS inked a Memorandum of Understanding on a collaboration to help amputees at LFL Prostheses Centre.

Perdana University offers to provide amputees with free consultation by its occupational therapists, while BUBS will facilitate practical training in occupational therapy for students from the university’s newly- launched Perdana School of Occupational Therapy (PUScOT).

The collaboration, a community rehabilitation programme, allows amputees who need assessment and therapy to be attended to in their own homes.

The university’s PUScOT degree programme is co-designed by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. The school’s first intake is next month.

The LFL Prostheses Centre welcomes contributions from corporate bodies and individuals who would like to give amputees a second chance at life.

Related story:
Life without a leg

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