Every now and then you come across the oddest true-life story. There is nothing more unlikely than the story of an organization called – Hope to Walk
If you believe in destiny and that each step you take has a purpose under God then this story is for you, and if you don’t, this might convince you!
Some of us might think that most people requiring prosthetic limbs are those suffering from war wounds or other traumas. In fact, globally, close to 70% of limbs are lost through diabetes and one in two people are unaware that they have this disease.
It is estimated that over 382 million people around the world current suffer from diabetes. Today, over 35 million people need but have no access to prosthetics or assistive devices. Every 30 seconds someone in the world has a limb amputated and 71% of these amputations are below the knee.
In 2013, the cost of a standard new “below the knee” prosthetic leg was anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000. However, even the most expensive prosthetic limbs are often replaced after five years of wear and tear. So a prosthetic leg could need replacing several times over the course of a lifetime. This is not a one-time cost.
So the need for prosthetics for the impoverished was obvious but the logistics and the costs were daunting. Before Hope to Walk came on the scene there have been attempts to provide prosthetics to those unable to afford them. This is usually done on a charitable basis and only deals with a very small percentage of those in need.
A big problem here is that the donations do not cover future repairs to, or replacement of, the donated limbs.
Hope to Walk‘s prosthetics can be provided, repaired or replaced at 1/50 to 1/200 of the cost!
A broken donated prosthetic which the wearer tried to repair himself.
In 2004 the seed was sown in Phillip Johnson’s heart when he traveled to Guatemala to deliver a prosthetic leg to a young boy named Mario he’d been told about by a local Floyd resident. To his amazement, 18 child amputees and their families showed up at the clinic, all with the hope that this doctor could help them too. This was a hard message to ignore.
Time and the demands of everyday life took over back home, as it usually does, but the seed was there and Phillip was thrilled, in 2012, to be able to help make a prosthetic for a man from Honduras who was sponsored by a local church.
The seed began to grow. What if local people could be trained to make and repair the prosthetics for amputees in their home areas?
But these things happen in God’s time, not man’s. The real adventure began in 2013 when Michael Mabry, a first-year medical student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, visited Phillip Johnson’s Prosthetics & Orthotics practice in Blacksburg, Virginia, to order some orthotics for his shoes to help his sore knees.
Michael and Phillip discovered a mutual interest in mission work and quickly became friends. The millions of people whose hopes for any type of normal life are wiped out by their inability to obtain expensive prosthetic limbs resonated with both men.
They went on a self-funded trip to the Baxter Institute in Honduras, which has an ongoing partnership with the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. In just one week they saw 65 amputee patients, all of whom said they did not have a leg because they could not afford one. The idea of providing prosthetic limbs on a larger scale began to flower.
But here are the really important commitments. Michael and Phillip determined to do this on a charitable basis with no cost to the patients.
This cuts out the concept of personal gain and includes the concepts of love and charitable giving. This organization is doing it for nothingbut the glory of God, relying on donations and prayer.
Michael spent a good part of the next year setting up Hope to Walk as a non-profit organization. This was finally achieved in May 2015.
Phillip knew he could make a strong, workable prosthetic leg for about 1/50th of the end price of the models on the market. He designed a prototype which we’ll call Mark I. Towards the end of 2014, it was fitted to a man in Honduras. It took less than 1 hour to give this patient his life back!
With Phillip still running his practice and Michael still under the pressure of medical school, in June 2015, they brought on a friend of Michael’s, Charlotte businessman Ed Bellaire, to be Hope to Walk’s executive director.
Ed had been keenly following the progress of Hope to Walk and felt the call to become involved. He has since made multiple trips, witnessing the miracles in the patient’s lives and has expanded the reach of Hope to Walk in Honduras.
Mark II soon followed, with a foot which flexes, giving a much more normal feel when walking, and a more secure attachment to the socket. Phillip has now developed a Mark III. This can be customized for either men or women, incorporating an extremely life-like calf, the color of which can be fairly closely matched to the patient’s skin tone. All of this for under $100 per prosthetic!
The places they and the people led to join them go are often dangerous, hard to reach, poverty-stricken areas. The normal method in which prosthetics are made for people overseas is for the providers to have an initial meeting with the amputees, make casts of their legs and return to the States to manufacture the prosthetics. This meant two trips and twice the cost.
Hope to Walk, however, has designed their prosthetics to be made completely on site when first meeting with the patient!
The idea of “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” applies here. Phillip and Michael decided that they wanted to do more than just provide the prosthetics.
They would set out to teach people in the areas of need to make the prosthetics. This industry would continue under their guidance. This would have a two-fold blessing: people who need prosthetics will have access to them and can receive hope while it also provides jobs so others are able to serve their own people. Training is now under way to teach people to manufacture the components and install the actual prosthetics on site.
The first ‘industry’ they are developing is in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Here, as part of a nutrition and job training program, single mothers are sewing the straps needed to attach the prosthetics to the patient’s leg. After completing their training, Hope to Walk gave each woman a sewing machine and, more importantly, a way to make a living after the completion of the program.
In this way, Hope to Walk is establishing home-grown industries in these areas while ensuring that amputees will always have access to repairs for their prosthetics or new limbs in the cases of growing children.
This year, a 4-year old Honduran boy will receive a Hope to Walk prosthetic leg. This is their first pediatric prosthetic leg and is only the beginning. Normally, children require many replacements as they grow. Hope to Walk is working to change that by inventing a leg that can be extended over time to avoid having to make additional legs!
With Hope to Walk‘s aims of helping all over the world, Ed Bellaire spent some time in Da Nang in Vietnam in 2015. He met with government officials and a missionary group to look at the possibility of helping Vietnam’s large number of child amputees. In Vietnam, the injuries leading to limb amputation are largely caused by landmines.
The biggest need here, of course, is funding. The cost of spending a week in Honduras, including travel and food, currently costs about $1,400. Travel to other parts of the world is much more expensive with the airfare alone to Vietnam at over $2,500.
Ed returned from Vietnam with a list of over 500 children Hope to Walk would love to help.
How many people could you help around the world get back their dignity, their worth to society, their lives if only they could walk again?
This is where we can all help.
Prayer costs nothing and if you would like to help or donate, please go to their website at hopetowalk.org.
You can also find them on Facebook where you can read about the lives that they are changing and the challenges they face. If you are on Facebook please share the good word with your friends.
If your church has a medical mission project please let them know about Hope to Walk.
When asked how they plan for the costs of the trips they make, which they pay for personally, the White Hole Star was told:
“We do our best, God does the rest.“
Words to live by!