How a school football game changed Arnold’s life
By Ines Amri, Strategic Partnership Manager @Amparo.
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.
The turning point in Arnold’s life
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.
As soon as they admitted him, the doctors had to amputate his infected left leg, as it was too late to save it. The infection led to a dense nodular fibrous mass. After the amputation, Arnold fell into severe depression and denial, as he never expected to lose a leg as a result of an insignificant injury on the football pitch. He was concerned about the way people would perceive him and whether they would underestimate his capabilities. He had to stay in the hospital to recover for a month and a half. For the following four months, he used a wheelchair and crutches, before receiving his first and only prosthesis ̶ the one he had been wearing for the last ten years.
The prosthesis he received back then left him in constant pain, and the effect it had on his mobility, despite being an improvement, left him unhappy and largely dissatisfied with what he was physically able to achieve. He was bound to limited types of activities. The undeveloped rural infrastructure of the small village of Malindi, where Arnold lives, made getting by even harder.
After talking for some time, it was Arnold’s turn to be fitted with Amparo’s Confidence Socket. The procedure took around an hour before Arnold was able to stand, and even jump out of excitement. Arnold was on cloud nine. His joyful vibes were spreading in the room that a few minutes later everyone at the workshop room was dancing on the latest local hit songs in Kenya, celebrating Arnold’s bliss.
Followed by all APDK team, Arnold left the workshop and headed to the gait training room to rehearse walking and standing independently, with his new Confidence Socket.
“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.”
And now…Accessing the world through improved mobility
“The previous socket was heavy. Amparo’s feels much lighter, easier for my movement. It helps me to play not only football, but now I am trying volleyball as well. With the previous socket, my skin got irritated and started itching me as it gets hot. What is more, the fitting process took some time. My first prosthetist first took measures then asked me to come back on different occasions to check if the socket was the right fit for me. This socket was made on the spot. Amazing!”
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 orthopedic 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 effectively and faster than ever before, it increases the speed of rehabilitation. Arnold is our story.
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Full article originally published by Amparo Prosthetics.