Carol, the Guatemalan girl who’s learning to hug with new arm

By Esteban Biba

Guatemala City, May 4 (EFE).- Carol is 8, and she’s hugging her teddy bear with her new left arm while she frolics and runs about on arificial legs in the shade of a huge pine tree. She’s following the instructions of Zayra Medina, her therapist and “motivator,” who is helping her understand and utilize her new prostheses to their fullest potential.

This little Guatemalan girl received the prosthetic legs and arm last September after living for seven years without these three extremities.

She is one of the more than 4,500 patients that the Range of Motion Project (ROMP) has helped in Guatemala and nearby countries, beginning with a clinic that provides prosthetics to people located in the eastern province of Zacapa.

ROMP has become an organization that provides community aid for and monitors patients who receive prosthetics at low cost or sometimes gratis.

Via the Community Based Rehabilitation Program (RBC), the association has connected with volunteers in the Central American country to provide physical and emotional help to patients receiving prosthetic limbs.

According to John Naber, who heads the program, the prosthetic clinic arose due to the fact that Guatemala’s public health system does not offer prosthetic devices to patients who need them.

Although they have been providing prosthesic devices to people for 17 years, over time they noticed that without the proper monitoring and follow-up people abandon the devices and slip back to square one. So, five years ago, they created the RBC so that, with the help of communities and volunteers, they can teach patients how to properly use their new limbs and provide emotional support during the learning process.

That’s the case with Carol, who received her legs and arm last year and didn’t learn how to use them until she was included in the RBC program whereby a therapist helps her during home visits and remote monitoring.

Currently, thanks to Zayra’s help, the little girl can draw and paint, her two favorite activities. She can also walk to the chicken coop that’s behind her house and visit a little duck there that she named “Princess.”

Naber told EFE that most of the parts used to make the prosthetics come from the United States, but they are normally not provided free although the program tries to make them available at very low cost to the patients.

The patient has to invest in part of the process. This helps them value the devices and it also helps the program, although it might be just a little money, to recover the operating costs, he said.

The program was created to help adults and the results have been tangible. The patients are less depressed, less anxious, they work more and some, with the help of the occupational therapy, are able to earn more money than before, Naber said.

The success of the program resulted in extending it to child care to help kids do better in school and get familiar with procedures they’ll have to follow for the rest of their lives.

“She was always very strong, but since she has her new prosthetics and is receiving therapy everyone at home is happier. Before, she made pictures of herself without legs or arms, and for the past few weeks she’s been painting (herself) with all her limbs and a big smile,” said Blanca Davila, Carol’s mother.

So far, ROMP has 40 programs in its community program who were selected after a socioeconomic study and the prosthetic clinic continues providing attention to patients from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico.

The association is also present in Ecuador and wants to replicate the RBC program in two US cities. It’s important for the work in Guatemala done mainly by Guatemalans, because of the good results, to be brought to the US, he said.

Meanwhile, the ROMP program is being expanded to 22 Guatemalan provinces, acquiring more volunteers and workers to be able to serve the thousands of people who cannot buy their own prosthetics.

EFE eb/oro/lll/bp

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