CBF teams with Mercer to provide prosthetics for Haitian amputees - Word&Way

CBF teams with Mercer to provide prosthetics for Haitian amputees

ATLANTA (ABP) — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has awarded a $50,000 grant to Mercer University to provide affordable prosthetics for Haiti, where thousands of people lost limbs in the January 2010 earthquake.

The grant, one of several Haiti-relief projects announced by the Atlanta-based CBF April 14, will be used to replicate in Haiti a "Mercer on Mission" program launched last year to provide artificial limbs to landmine victims in Vietnam.

Estimates of Haitian amputees from crushing injuries and gangrenous infections range from a few thousand to tens of thousands. By conservative accounts, at least 75 people per day faced amputations in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake. Due to the country's abject poverty, few if any Haitians can afford to purchase artificial limbs that can cost thousands of dollars.

Ha Van Vo, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Mercer, developed a low-cost alternative for use in developing countries, home to 80 percent of the world's 18 million amputees, many who go without prosthetic limbs.

Unlike regular prosthetics, the Mercer Universal Socket Prosthetic can be fitted without full customization, making it much cheaper to produce and easier to fit. It is designed for adults and comes in three sizes — small, medium and large. Inside the socket are three silicone rings that reduce pressure at the stump and help prevent ulcers from forming.

Last summer 15 Mercer students traveled abroad with Vo and another professor to fit 35 Vietnamese amputees with prosthetic legs at no cost to them. They cast 27 other people for fitting this summer, along with 63 more amputees in Vietnam. In future years Ho hopes to expand the program to India and Thailand.

In May Craig McMahan, university minister and dean of the chaplain at Mercer traveled to Haiti with CBF officials to lay groundwork for an exploratory trip in May and follow-up visit this summer.

"This partnership with Mercer University represents the best sort of collaboration between the university and CBF," said Rob Nash, the Fellowship's coordinator for global missions. "We're delighted that the expertise of Mercer professors and students will make a difference among our brothers and sisters in Haiti and that we can help to fund such an initiative because of the gracious gifts provided by individuals and churches."

The program in Vietnam garnered worldwide attention, including praise from the Clinton Global Initiative. Decades after the end of the war in Vietnam, more than 2,000 Vietnamese are injured each year by unexploded bombs and landmines still dotting the landscape. An estimated 100,000 amputees live in Vietnam today.

"This is a big deal to me personally, because when I was president we normalized relations with Vietnam," former President Bill Clinton said in a February 2009 ceremony recognizing the prosthetic program. "We reconciled all the POW/MIA issues."

"We spent an enormous amount of time trying to help them with demining activities, and I have visited clinics where children who are losing their legs to 40-year-old unexploded ordinance are treated," Clinton said. "You cannot imagine the difference this makes in their lives.

"Vietnam is a great friend of the United States today. We are reconciled. We are going to build a common future, but we can't forget there are still kids there today paying for decisions their grandparents made 40 years ago. This is a very good thing that Mercer has done."

Currently Mercer engineers are working on a manufacturing system prototype that can be replicated in indigenous micro industries in multiple developing countries, allowing the limbs to be built and fitted locally.

Last summer's trip to Vietnam was one of nine teams of faculty and students sent out in "Mercer on Mission," a work-study program now in its fourth year that combines academic instruction, cultural immersion and ministry alongside in-country partners like distributing mosquito nets in Africa, teaching orphans in Guatemala and delivering medical care in Thailand.


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.