October 1999 Bulletin

Bringing hope to amputees

Orthopaedists help landmine victims in Central America

Michael W. Abdalla, MD, fits prosthesis on leg of landmine victim in a makeshift clinic in El Salvador.

In a military compound turned prosthetic clinic in Santa Ana, El Salvador last June, more than 100 below-the-knee amputees from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were fitted with artificial limbs. The humanitarian effort made possible by two orthopaedic surgeons and their Rotary Club organizations.

It was an emotional day for the medical team and the hundreds who eagerly awaited a leg, because orthopadcists Michael W. Abdalla, MD; Gilbert Wright, MD; and Roy Snelson, a pioneer in prosthetics, didn't have enough legs to go around.

"Invariably, there are more amputees than we can bring legs for-just because of the costs and time," explains Dr. Abdalla. "It's a sad situation here. There are thousands of such amputees in El Salvador and neighboring Central American countries who have lost one or both limbs as a result of landmine explosions. As a consequence, they are unable to provide for their families-and in many cases, for themselves."

This humanitarian effort called The Rotary El Salvador Prosthetic Project was made possible by a matching grant totaling $45,000 from the Rotary Foundation raised by the two orthopaedists' Rotary Clubs of California. The money provided for 118 artificial limbs, component parts, tennis shoes and socks. Additional fundraising efforts brought in another $5,000 for "care" packages given to lessen the disappointment for those amputees who did not get a prosthesis. Four hundred pairs of reading glasses also were distributed.

"Just who gets a prosthesis is based on who gets the most out of the leg," explains Snelson. "Children gets first shot, wage earners next and the middle-aged people get last shot."

This was Snelson's 42nd trip to El Salvador to provide prosthetics, mostly to landmine victims. To date, he has fitted more than 3,000 amputees in South American and 1,000 amputees in Mexico in 1981

Both orthopaedists say they are "riding" on Snelson's "Wings of Calvary" crusade, a nonprofit foundation formed from the proceeds of the sale of Orthomedics, Inc., the manufacturer of the Redi-lite prosthesis, which he developed.

"My feeling is that we don't want this project to die," says Dr. Abdalla.

Echoing similar sentiments is Dr. Wright, who says, "I wanted to get involved in helping Roy's crusade and these unfortunate people walk. It breaks your heart to see these landmine victims struggling."

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