Learning to walk again, a step at a time

Learning to walk again, a step at a time

His distressed parents have been taking him for speech therapy elsewhere, but he is not responding to it.

But here, at the artificial limbs centre of Victoria Hospital’s Room No 37, they have reason for more hope. The boy is going to be fitted with a mobility-aid. The caliper for his ankle and foot has been tailored for his needs. After a week’s practice, he will begin to walk near-normally again.

Technician R Suresh is getting ready to fit the aid and train the child in its effective use. Suresh is trained in the making, fitting and maintenance of three aids––calipers, crutches and walkers.

He explains that they make three types of calipers––AFO (ankle-foot orthosis), KAFO (knee-ankle-foot orthosis) and HKAFO (hip-knee-ankle-foot orthosis).

An orthosis is a kind of brace. His assistant is trained in prosthetics. This means he has the knowhow for making artificial limbs both AK (above-knee) and BK (below-knee).

Alongside this child is a motely group of patients. There is farmer Kempaiah who suffered a spinal-cord injury after a fall from a tree. He has been given an AFO. Autodriver Y R Nayak is using a B K artificial limb as is M Shankar who suffered an amputation as a result of an accident. Salesman M D Irfan is using calipers owing to his polio problem.

G Mallesh who runs a small shop in Mysore suffered amputation (because of gangrene) in both legs and came here seeking help. He has been fitted with BK artificial limbs for both legs.

Jaipur foot
All of them are beneficiaries of the same organisation, the Artificial Limb Centre of the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS). Headquartered in Jaipur, the BMVSS is the world’s largest organisation of its kind for the physically handicapped and the biggest limb-fitting society too. Founded by philanthropist D R Mehta, this charitable organisation is best-known for its iconic product, the Jaipur Foot. In Bangalore, its centre is located in Room No 37 at Bangalore’s Victoria Hospital outside which we are sitting and chatting with the patients.

Only the Jaipur Foot comes from BMVSS in Jaipur. The rest is made here. Since BMVSS provides limbs and the fitting all free of cost, the same policy is followed here. So, all these beneficiaries receive artifical limbs, or crutches, or calipers (the three items given here) as per their need, including fitting and maintenance entirely free of charge.

“Along with calipers for polio-patients, we also give a pair of sports-shoes free of cost since they provide a good grip and guard against slipping during walking,” explains Suresh, the technician. Suresh is himself physically challenged having suffered from a bad bout of polio as a child. He was a natural choice for this job since it was believed he would have more understanding and empathy with other physically challenged persons.

We venture further ahead and into the centre. This decrepit signboard says Orthotic Centre but the room, though clean, is cluttered and crowded and appears at best like a store-room and at worst like a dump for old machinery.

Of course, we do not say so. Masking our disappointment at seeing such a venue for such a noble mission, we murmur something polite before finding chairs to sit on. But Kamal Mehta, one of the four members of the BMVSS, Bangalore, senses our feelings and candidly announces: “Welcome. I know this appears like a dump, and we are sorry about that but quantity and quality of space is one of the biggest problems we are facing right now.”

Looking for more support
The other member present, Bimal Kumar Saraogi, adds that they would be grateful for more space, greater government support as well as help from a few volunteers/social workers. Two other members, Anil Surana and Bharat Mehta, form the team that runs this centre with the help of technician Suresh and his assistant.

All of them are businessmen but as much of social workers too. “Our business gives us our bread and butter but true satisfaction and happiness is derived from this work of ours at the Artificial Limb Centre. If we can help those who are deprived and put a smile on their face, that is a big reward,” says Kamal.

Adds Saraogi, “I have had long years of experience in organising artificial-limb camps and working in this area even during my years in Erode. I have also been involved with free eye camps, etc. So, for me it was a natural step to get involved with this organisation.”

Each member visits the centre regularly and then provides a status report to the others. The centre runs on the basis of this coordination among members. Besides, this centre also offers assistance  to anyone in the city organising artificial limb camps.

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