Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Doctors help amputees in the Caribbean to walk again

April 10, 2007
Getting more than 30 artificial legs to long-waiting amputees in the Dominican Republic took a lot of planning and hard work.
After weeks of pre-trip logistical complications, unexpected expenses and fears that the trip might fall through -- as one to Mexico had a year before -- five prosthetics experts made their journey to the Caribbean nation.
They got what they expected, more hard work, and then some on the March 1-11 trip that they called Operation Compassion.
"In my whole life, this is probably the best thing I've ever seen," Dr. Saul Morris of Warren said of the trip.
Morris coordinated the trip and is founder of M-STAR (Michigan Society to Advance Rehabilitation), an organization that serves amputees.
"We got 30 people walking, and in a short time. We had children who had never walked. We had people who hadn't walked in 20 years," Morris said.
M-STAR collected many of the artificial legs that would go to people in the Dominican Republic, and it located the would-be recipients who often wait years to get prosthetic limbs.
The legs, which range in price from $2,000 to $8,000, were donated to M-STAR.
The organization accepts artificial arms and legs that cannot, by law, be reused or resold in the United States. The donations then go to patients in other countries. Before they could be donated, many of the prosthetics had to be repaired and others were made from parts of other prosthetics.
The mission to the Dominican Republic was the epitome of what Morris hoped to accomplish when he formed M-STAR in 2002.
Morris made the trip with Dr. Robert Maniere, who lives in St. Clair Shores and is president and co-owner of Comfort Prosthetics and Orthotics in Clinton Township. Maniere is certified in prosthetics and orthotics.
Both use prosthetic legs. Morris' leg was amputated in 2000 because of a condition called peripheral vascular disease. Maniere lost a leg as a teenager after he attempted to jump onto a moving train.
Also making the trip was Jim Williamson, a registered prosthetics and orthotics assistant from Clinton Township, David Ballantyne, a certified prosthetist from Harper Woods, and Dr. John Sealey, vice chief of staff and a vascular surgeon at St. John Detroit Riverview Hospital.
Maniere, Ballantyne and Williamson did weeks worth of work, much of it on their own time, getting the legs ready for re-use and packed for shipping. In the Dominican Republic, they did more hard work but also encountered many appreciative patients.
"One man was so excited, he went off and left his wheelchair," Morris said. He came back for it later "with a big smile on his face."
Comfort Prosthetics and Orthotics provided about $15,000 to pay for the trip.
The team worked in a prosthetics clinic at a rehabilitation hospital in Santo Domingo. Sealey was on hand in case surgeries were needed to correct vascular problems common in amputees. No surgeries were necessary, Morris said.
In addition to custom-fitting patients for legs, the team showed their local counterparts how to do the work so that they can do more for their patients.
Planning for the next mission has already begun.
"We would like to make this an annual thing," Morris said. "I'm still 10 feet tall. It touched my heart so much. It touched all of us so much."
Contact KIM NORTH SHINE at kshine@freepress.com.

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