Back in history: Artificial limbs for normal life

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Four-year-old Premila tries out her new artifi cial leg with Sefanaia Sau of the Crippled Children’s School. Picture: FILE

In a small basement workshop in Suva, two men and a woman were making products that would enable people with disabilities to live a reasonably normal life.

The Fiji Times article published on April 13, 1984, told the story of how the trio – Sefanaia Sau, Ram Prakash and Koleta Sosefo – began making artificial limbs for people living with disabilities. And the fact that the three themselves were living with disabilities gave poignancy to their work.

With some financial assistance from The Fiji Times charity arm Fiji Sixes and the Crippled Children’s School (now known as the Frank Hilton Organisation), they were able to carry out their good work.

It all started in 1980 when Mr Sau came back from a 10-month course in Brazil.

As a child, he had suffered from polio while growing up in Lakeba, Lau.

He first came to the Crippled Children’s School in 1967 where he was educated and then worked for a few years before going to Brazil.

Mr Sau had been to Brazil twice where he studied a course in orthotics prosthetics – the making of artificial limbs.

The World Council on Rehabilitation which had its headquarters in New York in the United States, paid for Mr Sau’s education in Brazil.

He said they were trying to make use of local timber and plastics to cut down the cost of fashioning the limbs.

Some of the plastics that were used were given by P A Lal and Company. Other material that were used were imported from the United States.

The cost of a limb made in Fiji was almost half of that of a limb made in the US.

If someone was ordering an arm for instance, they would pay $700 if the limb was made in the US but $300 would be the asking price if the limb were made in Fiji.

For the three, profit was not why they ventured into this business.

For them it was all about making affordable artificial limbs for those in need and being able give back to the disabled community that way.

Mr Prakash, the second member of the team, was also a student at the Crippled Children’s School before he became a technician at the orthotics and prosthetics laboratory at the Crippled Children’s School.

Mr Prakash lived with his family in Nausori. As for the third member of the team, Koleta Sosefo, she was responsible for the administrative side of the venture.

She was involved in an accident three years before the start of the venture and was paralysed from the neck-down.

She was a quadriplegic for a year before she regained some movement in her arms.

Ms Sosefo lived with her family in Samabula and travelled to work daily on a special bus, unlike Mr Sau who stayed in a flat in Vatuwaqa and rode his motorbike to work.

Despite living with a disability, Mr Sau said that when people got fitted with a limb, they needed to be trained before they could use it.

He said when a child with an artificial limb grew up, the limb would have to be changed over time because if the limb became too short, it could place strain on other parts of the body such as the lower back area.

Within a span of a month, about four or five people were fitted with new limbs because of their venture.

To obtain the exact colour of the limbs, two liquids were used and these are mixed together in varying amounts to get the correct colour that matched the patient’s skin.

The colours were negroid (a type of black) and white. A blue liquid-plastic was also used to aid in the colouring.

The desired amount of liquid plastic was then mixed with a small amount of colouring – if the colouring should be white only, then the colour of the limb would be white.

If some of the white colouring was mixed with the negroid, the colour would be either dark brown or light brown, depending on the amount of negroid colouring used.

The plastic did not dry until it was exposed to heat, which caused it to dry in about 15 minutes.

The making of artificial limbs was a fairly recent process in Fiji and Mr Sau, Ms Sosefo with Mr Prakash may have inspired a lot more people to take up the same venture.

 

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