THE physical therapy room of the Tebow Cure Hospital in Davao City was filled with words of encouragement and cheers as foreign volunteers help Filipino children with their "new" limbs.
The children were having a hard time getting used to their new limbs as they take careful steps from one end to another. Most of them were born without their legs; hence, the newness of having one. The children were like toddlers who were trying to take their first steps. Despite the struggles, you can see in their eyes determination and the joy to finally be able to walk like a normal person.
Encouraging the children with limb loss was not your regular good Samaritans. While some of them were physical therapists, there were a couple of them wearing prostheses. It was a beautiful sight indeed, those with limb loss who are now able to walk with a prosthesis are helping the children who just got theirs.
Volunteers of the Limb Kind Foundation, a charitable organization based in New York, United States, spent a week in Davao City in September this year to give hope to children without limbs.
Anchored on their mission to improve "the lives of children with limb loss both domestic and international, by strengthening the amputee community and providing pediatric prosthetic care to all," the foundation provided beneficiaries with free and customized prosthetic limbs.
"Giving prostheses is giving these children a chance to be at least normal, to be more productive. Gusto namo tagaan tyansa kining mga bataa nga maglakaw and mahimong normal ilang panglakaw (We want to give these children a chance to walk again like a normal person)," Elvin Ledesma, a physical therapist volunteer for the Limb Kind Foundation.
PJ Desposa, spiritual director of the Tebow Cure Hospital, said this is the first time that the Limb Kind Foundation has partnered with them.
"Gusto sa Tebow Cure Hospital nga dili lang ta naga-tabang nga maayo ang ilahang mga bones pero naa gyud mga uban nga dili gyud kalakaw kay putol na gyud ilang tiil. So, kinahanglan nato sila providan og prostheses (We at Tebow Cure Hospital not only help those who have problems with the bones but we also want to help provide those without legs prostheses)," he said.
Ledesma said the prostheses they are providing the beneficiaries are custom-built at the prosthetic and orthotic workshop of the Tebow Cure Hospital.
Desposa said the prostheses provided by the foundation are not your run of the mill prostheses. These prostheses are built using high-quality materials and designed to allow the beneficiary to walk and run normally and even bend.
Helping the children are mentor amputees who are teaching them how to maximize their prostheses.
Desposa said the presence of the mentors is an encouragement to the children who were born without legs.
"Positive ilang reaction. Ang nakit-an nila is dili lang sila nag inusara sa aning situation. Naa diay uban na pareha sa ilaha. Naa pud uban nga pwede mahimong successful maskin ingana ang sitwasyon (The children had a positive response seeing the mentors. They saw that they are not the only ones who lack limbs. They saw that despite their situation, they can also become successful)," he said.
Desposa added, "Kasagaran sa mga kabataan gina-bully pero sa nakit-an nila karon naka encourage and nakahatag hope sa ilaha. Life-changing ni sa ilaha (Many of these children without limbs are being bullied but with what they saw, it gave them encouragement and hope. This is life-changing for them)."
He said the foundation will be back next year to check on their first batch of beneficiaries and see if there is anything they need to do to make adjustments on their prostheses.
Michael Hulland, executive director of the Tebow Cure Hospital, said not many persons without limbs in the country are given the attention that they need.
"It is actually an under-considered part of the population. The number of amputees is higher than people realize because many of them here stay at home. You do not see them out and around in society and so there is a big unmet need for prosthetics and orthopedic services," he said.
Hulland said getting a prosthesis in the Philippines can be expensive especially for those who do not have enough financial resources.
"Each device is different but the average cost is around P50,000. You can go super expensive to computerize controlled devices to 3D printed but the average for a reasonable quality device is around P50,000," he said.
"Diri sa Pilipinas mu-settle nalang ang uban na wala nalang siya [prostheses] (Some Filipinos would just settle without prostheses)," Desposa said.
Meeting the needs
In a bid to meet the demands of those who need prostheses, Tebow Cure Hospital in Davao City has started this year the operations of its prosthetic and orthotic workshop.
"We do orthopedic surgery and then a lot of our patients need the aftercare and rehabilitative care of a prosthesis or orthosis. It gives a more wholistic and wider range of care we can provide our patients," Hulland said.
The hospital is using European and United States technology for the prostheses of the patients. The prostheses are also modular, which allows them to replace certain parts only and not the whole artificial limb.
Hulland said the modular design of the prostheses allows them to change certain parts as the child grows older.
"In the long term, it is a better option. These are lighter, more interchangeable, and allows us to have a better fit to make it more comfortable for the patient," he said.
For the materials of the prostheses, the sockets are made out of thermoplastic or laminated carbon fiber while the other components are made of carbon fiber, titanium, and aluminum. He said this is a lot lighter than what has commonly used -- prostheses made of out of mostly polypropylene, which is heavier for the patient and breaks more.
"We are trying to provide reliable, practical technology for our patients," Hulland said.
At a subsidized cost with the help of donors and supporters, he said the hospital can provide prostheses at a lower cost.
"We want to provide the best possible care in any way -- prosthetics surgery, physical therapy, every area of the hospital -- without putting so much burden on the people," Hulland said.
With the presence of the workshop at the hospital, Limb Kind Foundation was also able to create customized limbs from scratch here in the Philippines.
The foundation also provided the staff of the hospital knowledge and education on making prostheses and physical therapy for those with one.
"It is a great opportunity for us as we open our prosthetic and orthotic workshop to bring in support and get our local staff trained and developed to international standards," Hulland said.
For the beneficiaries of the prostheses, new opportunities await them as they are now able to walk and run with their prostheses.
Desposa noted that some of the kids were able to quickly learn and get used to their prostheses after receiving it. One was able to play basketball after. He said the child told him that he wants to become a paralympic athlete someday.
"First time nakabarog or nakalakaw (It was the first time for them to stand and walk). So it is a lot of practice but a lot of happy faces. We are very happy," Ledesma said.