Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” will celebrate these unsung community members and bring to light their quiet contributions.
In many developing countries, those who lose a leg have very few options for mobility. In areas with only dirt roads or paths, mobility is even more difficult because wheelchairs are not very effective.
The Brigham Young University students and recent graduates who founded 2ft Prosthetics nonprofit organization are trying to solve that problem. Through their work since starting as a BYU club in 2008, they have given back the ability to walk to a significant number of people in Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Tonga, Costa Rica and Micronesia.
Dave Williams, Provo resident and co-founder of 2ft Prosthetics said it’s very exciting to see a person, who has never had a prosthetic leg or hope of walking, smile as they stand upright. That’s what keeps him and his co-founder, Jake Chronister, partnering with other organizations to arrange for used prosthetics to use abroad. It also keeps him and his team shelling out their own money and own vacation time to make the regular trips to these countries.
The 2ft group spent three weeks in Tonga during June and July. They evaluated 30 patients, and fit 18 people with new legs. They are headed to the Dominican Republic on Friday for another 10-day trip.
“They have more than 300 amputees, and we’re taking down a lot of donated components. We’re hoping to bring at least enough (full leg) components for 45 amputees,” Williams said.
Those that volunteer for these trips, like Provo prosthetist Branch Hunsaker, don’t do it for the sightseeing (which they rarely have time to do). They go down there to eat, sleep and help people walk again.
“In many of these places, I’m working with the bare necessities. And I’m flat out working, working the whole time,” Hunsaker said.
But he got into his line of work to help people, and when he heard of 2ft Prosthetics a few years ago, he knew he wanted to be a part of their work. He now goes on most trips as the resident doctor, though he teaches 2ft volunteers — most of whom have no medical background — how to take patients through the fitting process.
Many people think adjusting to a prosthetic is a matter of a few week’s exercise, but it’s not. It takes most amputees months to feel comfortable and confident in their walking ability. Since 2ft can’t be there for that span of time, Hunsaker teaches patients and native physical therapists how to manage the fit, and the proper gait training and strength training exercises to do.
The 2ft group has been doing this long enough that they have good relationships in each country, and they make return trips often. Through international partnerships, they are also reaching out to other countries.
Williams said they have relatively no problems finding donated components for their international patients. In the United States, once a prosthetic has been given to an amputee, if he or she decides it’s not working, or if he or she wants to change to something different, those components cannot be resold to the public. There are no regulations like that in these developing countries, so, as Williams said, the used components “are perfect for our charity.”
Unique to 2ft as well is that most international patients get two foot components for each prosthetic leg. They get a donated one that has a foam rubber life-like foot they can use within a shoe. They also get a foot-shaped hard plastic one. This one is what Williams and his team have been working on for eight years now.
When they first started, they wanted to make prosthetics that were cheap but very rugged and durable. After multiple iterations, hundreds of hours of research, and a switch from PVC pipe to hard customizable plastic, they now have a solid solution that amputees can use in places where there are no roads, or for those who don’t wear shoes. The bottom of the plastic foot comes with tread, and are fitted and contoured individually on site.
“I like their game plan,” Hunsaker said of 2ft Prosthetic’s research and development. “I want to make sure patients have a strong, durable, quality prosthetic.”
To find out more, or to donate to their travel expenses, visit www.2ftprosthetics.org.