Learning to walk doesn’t come easy. Global Goal #3 Good Health and well being
Treatment is the act of reacting to a symptom but does not mean reversing that symptoms effects. Almost all illnesses or injuries leave their mark. People who seek treatment for leprosy receive antibiotics to fight the disease, but the resulting injuries cannot be reversed.
One young man, who had contracted leprosy as a child and gone untreated for too long, lost his leg due to infection. With the best of intentions, a charity had gifted this man with a prosthetic leg, but this action was missing the partnership and understanding encouraged by Global Goal 17. A gift, if misunderstood and therefore misused is only temporary, and in this case can do more harm than good.
Leprosy had damaged the nerve endings in the young man's amputated leg. He had no sensation in the amputation, and no pain to warn him when he was putting too much weight and pressure on the limb in the new prosthetic leg. He was unaware that he needed physiotherapy and muscle growth to support the leg. And was unaware that learning to use a prosthetic correctly could take time. Excited to be back on his feet he used the prosthetic for long durations. Without the sensation of pain, he did not know he was damaging his own limb and the amputation by misuse. Soon, he had damaged both beyond repair. The leg had to undergo more surgical intervention to remove the damaged tissue and he kept the damaged prosthetic under his bed. As I got to know him I realised being back walking on two feet was one of his greatest goals. We had 2 challenges to make this happen;1st; find a new prosthetic leg that fit his unique needs. This is the age of innovation and ingenuity, where many challenges can be overcome with creative ideas. Every day new ways are being developed to sustainably innovate for the world. Locally in Bengaluru, there was a creative and inspiring man, who had combined his prosthetic engineering knowledge with the lost art of Indian bamboo craft. He had developed cheap, light weight, flexible and durable prosthetic legs for the amputee community in India. This man, Arun, the founder of Rise Legs, had a vision to improve people’s quality of life. His support solved the first challenge, and provided us with the access to a unique and affordable solution.
2nd; we had to make sure he had the knowledge he missed out on the first time. One of the things he was missing the first time was the pain and sensation of pressure to use as a warning sign. This warning sign should remind him to take a break, take off the limb, let his limb rest and maybe even redress his bandages. The pain should also tell him when his muscles are exhausted and weak. Since the lack of functioning nerves at the amputation site prevented this he needed to learn to take these breaks and take care of his limb without waiting for warning signs. This means taking full, conscious and independent ownership of his journey from the chair to his feet.
This man had never had the opportunity or encouragement to work. As he grew up he was prevented from gaining employment due to misconceptions about leprosy. His first job was an exciting challenge. By saving his earnings, he has been able to pay towards his new leg, every week getting closer to his goal. He has learnt to respect the value of what is working for and wants to do whatever it takes to keep his prize in the best condition, in spite of the unfair hand life has dealt him and in spite of the lack of nerves we depend on as reminders.
We keep in touch monthly, through his sponsor and physiotherapist and he is making great progress. He has almost achieved our shared dream for his future on two feet, and intends to keep working after our project is complete so he can work towards a different goal. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for him as he grows and breaks past the side effects of leprosy that had been limiting him.
This project taught me that medical device innovation should think outside the box and make solutions for quality of life over profit. As a biomedical engineer this has become an integral part of my day to day life and work. More importantly I learnt that charity only solves a small portion of our world’s challenges; learning together and supporting each other towards understanding and respecting our resources is the only way to close the gap. This means respecting cultures, respecting resource ownership and working together rather than just giving.
Name: Kate Griffin
Award: Silver Award