That’s why I like working in Zacapa: The ReMotion Knee in Action
I really like my work. How many people can say that?
I work for ROMP, the Range of Motion Project, and our mission is to spread independence through mobility. Close your eyes, and imagine having to choose between your arm and your leg, which would you cut off, if you had to? What if you didn’t have the choice? What if you woke up in the hospital and were missing one of your four limbs? One of the four tools we were given as physical beings to experience this world with?
I work in prosthetics, delivering O&P (orthotic and prosthetic) care to those who don’t have access to this care otherwise, whether that be due to social, geographical, or financial reasons.
What do I like about my work?
I like working in Zacapa, Guatemala because usually I work behind a computer. I know that that work is important too—there’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that has to happen before all the magic happens, and we get to watch somebody walk independently for the first time in years, or ever.
But that’s why I like working in Zacapa.
Because we get to watch somebody walk again. Before my eyes, I watch somebody accomplish something they never thought they would accomplish ever again. I’m still working behind a computer right now, but I’ve moved my temporary office into the patient room, the device delivery room. So I’m on a stool that’s about 6 inches high, translating documents and preparing agreements for future internship programs, but when I look up I simultaneously see three different patients walking for the first time in years. Some have faces lit up by a smile. Some have serious faces with brows furrowed in concentration. How lucky I am, I think to myself. That I get to be a part of this moment in somebody else’s life.
NUPOC (Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center) prosthetist and physical therapist team up to gait-train a new transfemoral patient using the ReMotion Knee.
As an organization founded in Guatemala, ROMP realized the patient need here very early on, and so they decided to stay. Ten years ago, two young prosthetists had a vision for the future, but I wonder if they saw all of this coming their way. A permanent clinic open all year, trained local professionals, a patient base across both Latin and Central America…it’s a beautiful thing. And that’s why ROMP is such an awesome organization—they came to Guatemala, and here they will stay until this clinic is the golden standard for the best possible O&P care on the entire continent. Today, an amazing, dedicated staff of 7 people from Teculutan work in this clinic 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, all year round. A prosthesis is not something you can deliver and then leave. The delivery is only the first step. The rest of the process is about rehabilitation, and learning to feel the prosthesis as a part of your body, and it’s been a pleasure watching this entire process unfold before my eyes.
Some might ask then, given the emphasis we place on our clinic operating independently all year around, why do we still host volunteer trips? Why are there 13 gringos in the lab this week, fabricating prostheses for 22 patients?
I also like working in Zacapa because I get to see a lot of learning. I love learning. If anything, more than learning, I love teaching, which is great because there’s a lot of teaching going on this week.
Two NUPOC (Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center) students and a Northwestern physical therapist interview a patient with a unique surgery and need for a very personalized orthosis.
Some may say the students are benefiting the most, others might say the full-time staff benefits more, and others might say that it’s the patients benefiting the most. But when I look up, all I see is a lot of people benefiting from each other. I’m observing Guatemalan physical therapists learning how to teach a patient to take her first steps from a professor at Northwestern University, an Ecuadorian/American clinician explaining knee and foot alignment to an American student, and patients teaching other patients how to make their gait look even smoother.
Patients are learning how to use their new knee, and prosthetists are learning how to use their new knee. This is an especially interesting trip because we are trying out the ReMotion Knee from D-Rev. These are brand new knees that are literally a fraction of the cost of the next cheapest one. And they have the same function! I’ve been in touch with the team at D-Rev for almost two years now, interested in their designs after seeing them on TED. We’ve spent so much time on this project, working out the details of using the ReMotion Knee to help our patients.
Three AK prosthesis, three different knees, same funcionality. The ReMotion knee (right) is the cheapest by far.
This morning, sitting on my stool in the delivery room, I’m simultaneously answering questions and connecting a prosthetist from the United States with this knee specialist who’s in India—talk about an international operation. They’re giving each other feedback and advice, and throughout this process, the patient tells his story while learning to take his first few steps. He learns how the knee locks itself and how it releases itself, depending on where his body weight is. Our contact in D-Rev, currently on the other side of the world, learns about the strengths of the ReMotion knee, and the Northwestern prosthetist learns how to gait train a transfemoral patient on his first prosthetic.
There are translators, students, patients, and locals asking all sorts of questions.
And there are translators, students, patients, and locals answering questions. Each person is helping to build the other. To me, the important thing, and the most fascinating thing, is they are all a part of the process. They’re all teaching each other. They’re all learning from each other.
AND, in the meantime, there are 22 people here who are beginning to hope and dream again with their first solo steps.
There are logistical headaches, and inventory headaches, and long hours, and questioning of your sanity with trips like these, but I’m sure that there are other benefits that I haven’t even thought of yet. With this much positive energy and teaching and experiencing, how can there not be? With this much dedication and determination, how can there not be success? Who knows what any one of these students will do or accomplish with the knowledge and experience they gained from a trip like this. Who knows what kind of impact they might have on ROMP in a few years, and coincidentally, ROMP’s patients? Who knows what any one of these patients will do or accomplish with their new prosthesis?
I look at this week as an investment in the most valuable resource that any of us have, and that’s human potential.
That’s why I like working in Zacapa.