Fitting amputee patients with a combination of technology and heart
By Jennifer Browning
Magdala, 22, hoists herself onto the examining table so that Project Medishare’s certified prosthetic orthotist (CPO) Davor Krchelich can scan her leg where her new prosthetic limb will be placed. She watches quietly as the laser scans across her knee tissue and curiously stares at the computer screen which begins to paint a picture of the socket that will need to be built for her new prosthetic.
In the small prosthetic lab at the Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare (HBMPM), Davor uses the BioSculptor to scan the limb to determine how the socket for Magdala’s prosthetic leg should be constructed. Davor said it is fantastic technology to have here in Haiti.
“The Biosculptor is helping us actually realize the scans from here. We are taking measures instead of using plaster, wrapping with plastic,” he said.
The wand Davor uses has two cameras that gather images as the laser beam passes over the patient’s tissue and what those cameras see is transmitted onto a screen. The image file is saved, transmitted over the internet to a machine in Florida that can read the file at the prosthetic plant where the socket for the prosthetic leg will be made.
“Later on, virtually, we are able to use the information to make the prosthetic socket more feasible for the individual patient,” he said. “The socket is the most important part of the prosthetic limb. It is the socket that can help make a person walk or just stand.”
Once Magdala has been scanned, and the file is sent to the US it takes about two weeks for the socket to be sent to HBMPM where she will get measured and fitted for their new limb. From there it is all about physical therapy, and learning how to use her new leg.
Davor looks up to watch Marianna, 15, is getting the assistance of Cedieu Fortilus and Wilfred Messine who are guiding her through exercises as she begins to get comfortable with her new leg. Both Fortilus and Messine have been hired by Project Medishare and are training to be prosthetic technicians.
While the technology being used at HBMPM is important in getting the prosthetic right for the patient, Davor and his team feel their encouragement for their patients is equally as important. With this in mind they have worked very hard to create a safe environment for their patients so their are no distractions when it comes to teaching them to walk.
“It’s very personal,” he said, “when you are learning how to use the prosthetic. That’s why we try to create an environment to give them a free feeling. This way they start off with more confidence, they are more relaxed and more willing to achieve something.“
Wilfred understands how personal this can be for his patients. He had his leg amputated shortly after the earthquake happened in January. Part of his job is not only to help with the fitting and the physical therapy, but he and Cedieu also help these patients understand what the prosthetic means for them.
“Medishare gave me the leg I have today so that I can walk. When people started seeing me walking around my house, they were confused because for many months they see me without the leg. They see that I couldn’t walk,” Wilfred said. “They were used to seeing me without a leg. They would ask me, ‘how are you walking like that?’”
Wilfred also brings other amputees to HBMPM to help them get fitted.
“I have friends who are amputees and they asked me how they can get a leg. I bring them here,” he said. “They were very, very happy because they thought they would never walk again.”
Cedieu said together he and Wilfred work to change attitudes of the patients they see.
“When we were working near the airport we would meet with the patients, and I noticed that they were calling themselves paralyzed because they were missing a leg or an arm. They think when they lose a limb that they are not the same,” he said, “they think they are less important. So we met with all of them and tell them they can do everything again once they have their prosthetic”
And Wilfred is the perfect example to show everyone the possibilities.
“Every time we want to explain something to the patient, we use Wilfred as an example,” Cedieu said. “We show them that he has a prosthetic and then we say, look what he can do!!”
Wilfred said that he loves his work at HBMPM because he is helping Project Medishare change people’s lives.
“What Medishare is doing here is helping people start their life again,” Wilfred said. “I talk to the amputee patients and let them know that one day, they can be like me. I tell them that I can walk, I can drive, and I have learned to run….there are so many things I can do with my new leg and that they will be able to do these things one day. I let them know they can have a new life. That if you are an amputee it doesn’t mean your life is over.”
While Wilfred said that he is happy to be working with Project Medishare, what means the most to him is helping his people.
“I am so proud to do this kind of work, and to help my people. The amputee patient thinks it is a bad thing that they lose their leg. Before I got my leg, I used to think that too,” Wilfred said. “When I get the new leg, I realized that I have another chance. Now I get to help others who used to think they way I did. I get to share with them my experience and help them one-day walk again.”
Davor , who has been working at HBMPM since the end of June, shares Wilfred’s joys of working at the hospital. He said he would stay however long he is needed.
“As long as they need me, I will be here,” Davor said. “The feeling is great when you see someone walking out with a smile. You can see the new hope in their eyes, maybe this is what holds me here, just the hope of knowing that these patients can walk out and go live normal lives.”