The first time I saw Arnold was on the second day of a visit to the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK), in Mombasa, with Amparo GmbH founders, Wesley Teerlink and Lucas Paes de’ Melo. We were there to conduct a pilot research project for people with lower limb amputation. Arnold was sitting on a bench along with two other people, chatting in Swahili, waiting to be fitted with one of Amparo’s Confidence Sockets. His wide smile and giggling signaled just how excited and thrilled he was about what was to happen in just an hour’s time. He soon took notice of my subtle looks and invited me to the conversation, asking if I was having a good time in Mombasa or if I needed advice on where to go during my stay. As the conversation unfolded, we started talking about him, and the unfortunate story behind his amputation at such a young age.
Ten years ago, at just 17 years old, Arnold was playing football at school when one of his classmates trod on his foot. He had to be carried home. His parents were not on good terms back then. They did not understand his condition and did not think it was too serious to require hospitalization. He was left alone to suffer in utter pain before going to the hospital a month later.
With his previous prosthesis, Arnold was not able to do much because of the friction burns and discomfort it caused. Now, he can drive, swim, have long walks, and take part in high-impact sports, like volleyball.I asked Arnold if he wanted to play football again. He replied, “Yes, of course. I like playing football, and I am now able to even play volleyball, as I have a good prosthesis. The first feeling I had when I wore the Confidence Socket was excitement.”
A “disability” is not an “inability”
Through conversation, Arnold and I discovered we are both the firstborn among siblings. On his family, he explained: “I am 28 and the eldest of eight brothers, and in my community, being the eldest means I have to provide for my family and help my siblings go to school. We all had to live with my mother when my dad left a long time ago, and since then, I have been trying to help out. But it is not easy at all. When looking for a job, you can’t compete with others who are not amputees. Employers look down on you. They don’t take you seriously. For me, I don’t have a problem with being an amputee. Being disabled does not mean I am not capable of doing anything. I can do my things. I am independent. I even built my own house.”
I asked Arnold what he longed for doing now that he can move around better. He responded eagerly: “My dream is to become a businessman. I don’t want to be an employee. I aspire to work in the tourism sector to mingle with tourists and get them to different destinations in my country. Why? I like it because I love interacting with people from different parts of the world. I learned English when I was in high school. I had much interest in the language. I wanted to be able to talk with as many ‘mzungu’ (Western people) as possible. I also would like to show them how beautiful my country is. We have nice beaches on the Indian Ocean, good infrastructure, and a lot of natural resources… Of course, I plan to get married as well but only once I have a good job. Providing for my family is one of my goals. I am quite disciplined.”
A well-fitting and functional prosthesis is vital for an amputee to increase mobility, lead a fulfilling life, and actively participate in the family and community. However, several barriers make it very difficult for the majority of amputees to receive prostheses, especially in Low-and Middle-Income Countries. In Kenya, as in this story, there are insufficient orthopaedic workshops, a lack of skilled technicians, and no access to cost-effective prosthetic components. Arnold’s life took a turn since his amputation. Adequate care from the beginning would have drastically improved Arnold’s quality of life.
In Arnold’s case, he has been fortunate. His youth and general passion for life kept him going over the years, but for many, their story is sadly different. Social rejection, immobility, and economic boundaries often lead to depression and chronic illnesses. Coupled with sub-par prosthetic care (even if a person does receive it), this can lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and long-term health issues (both physical and mental). For these reasons, we at Amparo believe our mission is of vital importance to amputees in the developing world. Not only does the Confidence Socket allow medical professionals to visit and fit amputees anywhere in the world more cost-effective and faster than ever before, it increases the speed of rehabilitation. Arnold is our story.
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