Of One Heart: The gift of mobility
Economic conditions of many developing nations force individuals and families to take risks that sometimes lead to serious accidents.
As we drove into Santo Domingo, I was startled to see cars coming toward us in two of our three lanes. As the cars got closer, they flowed around us — just like water. Elder Michael Francom, an LDS humanitarian missionary, said, “Don’t worry . . . traffic laws in the Dominican Republic are merely a suggestion.”
The challenge in many developing countries, however, is that vast numbers of motorbikes and pedestrians clog the city streets and must survive in a fast-moving environment of cars and trucks. Collisions can be extremely debilitating. Severely broken legs — treatable in many countries — are simply cut off in the Dominican Republic. The reason? Amputations are free; orthopedic surgery is expensive. And few people have insurance.
I met the survivor of one of these collisions, Mayerlinth Reyes. She had been holding her infant son at the side of a road when she was struck by a speeding car. Both Mayerlinth’s legs had to be amputated.
Following her recovery, Mayerlinth was confined to a wheelchair. But last year she heard about Innovación Ortopédica, a prosthetic clinic and partner with LDS Charities. There she had the opportunity to receive prosthetic legs and a new lease on life.
Clinic co-founder Danny Lopez told me that prosthetic limbs aren’t an option for most people because of the cost. “Most don’t have insurance,” he said, “and even if they do, it only covers the cost of the doctor. But with funding from LDS Charities, the gift of mobility is extended to 50 people each year. And now we are working with a new material that will let us nearly double the number of prosthetic limbs next year for the same cost.”
Each prosthetic leg is custom fit to the individual patient through a series of measurements, leg molds, fabrication and adjustments. Mayerlinth’s new prosthetic legs were so light, she could walk with only a cane in less than two months.
“Watching patients put on a new prosthesis and take those first tentative steps brings tears to your eyes,” said Sister Francom. “You see light and hope in their eyes and a smile on their face.”
“I was anxious to receive my prosthetics, so I could reactivate my life,” said Mayerlinth. “I can enter places I couldn’t have entered with my wheelchair and take my children to school. Everything a homemaker does in a house, I can do it. That’s changed me a great deal. I’ve been able to have two more children. My life is completely normal.”
“This is one of the highlights of our mission,” said Elder Francom, “to be part of a miracle!”
And it’s the highlight of my job as a photojournalist — to meet donors, missionaries, in-country partners, and those in need — and share a glimpse of their stories of hope and charity.