In the middle of November, I was fortunate enough to travel to India to visit our amputee project beneficiaries. They are cared for at our limb centre, run by HEAL and based at the Paradise Village for impoverished orphans, in Andhra Pradesh, near the Bay of Bengal.
I was accompanied by Jennie, our Treasurer, and Emilie our member of staff. We returned with very special memories, moved by the plight of many of the children; strengthened by their courage. And, having seen the vital difference our support makes to them, determined to keep helping them. Without ELoH’s help, many of the amputees will, simply, never be mobile.
Our limb centre in India is run by HEAL; Health and Education for All. The children come from poor backgrounds and their parents cannot afford the prosthetics and medical care they need to walk and have healthy and fulfilling lives.
Two years ago I met Dr Prasad, a surgeon in England who has devoted his life to this incredible HEAL family. I talked to him about helping amputees and finally, last year the Elizabeth Panton Limb Centre was opened, named in memory of our mother who sadly lost her life in the tragedy that changed our lives.
The challenges faced by amputees in rural India for the poorest of children were abundantly clear. These beautiful, smiling children who do not complain came to the clinic. We chatted to them to get to know them, we found out how they lost their legs: children who have been pushed off over-crowded trains, children who have fallen off motorbikes – it is common to see bikes with at least four people on them. Sadly problems in pregnancy are very common too, malnutrition and being poisoned by pesticides whilst pregnant mothers work in the paddy fields.
One little child, Gaurav, who is four, had both his legs amputated because his legs were too short and his feet pointed inwards. When we were there, we saw him walk for the first time on his new legs. Without our help, he would not have had the operation and he would never have walked. He could have ended up without an education, with few prospects in life.
We also met Aryan, 17, who lost his leg when he was run over by a lorry at the age of four. He received his first leg from us last year when he was 16. We asked him how he had coped from the age of 4 until 16 and he said he had hopped, for all those years. He was also missing both of his arms.
These children did not complain. We checked their limbs for growth spurts. For child amputees, growth spurts can be a terrible problem. It means their limbs stop fitting and their bones can grow out of the end of their residual limbs and they must have an operation. Bone disease is called osteomyelitis and it is very common – sadly one of our beneficiaries in Sierra Leone died of this a few years ago during the Ebola crisis.
I also noticed that a lot of amputated limbs in India seem to be very misshapen and I am worried about this. This is because many children have had botched amputations after their terrible accidents. Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope gives children the operations they need to wear their prosthetic legs comfortably, we will follow up their care with love, with patience, with physio if that is what they need.
On the last day we visited three of our beneficiaries in their homes. First we visited a girl called Shivani, she has lost both her legs when she was electrocuted. She lived in a hut with her grandparents, her parents and 3 of her brothers. She gave a beautiful picture she had drawn for Pollyanna. She was very quiet, her mother said “thank you for giving my daughter her life back”. She cried and did not want us to leave.
Next we visited Amita (picture below); she was born without her leg and her shoes had too many holes in, so she did not wear them. She was missing her big toe on her other foot and many fingers. Her mother was in the cotton fields, picking cotton. Her grandmother was there, showing us her shoes. It was so hard because we could not understand each other, but I could understand her pain. But within weeks Amita will have a new leg and a pair of brand new shoes. We always give our children new shoes. It is so important, they are so proud of their brand new shoes.
Lastly we visited Kareem. A beautiful, healthy 12 year old. When we arrived we saw a vision on a hill. It was a boy running fast on his crutches. When he came to the limb clinic he seemed withdrawn, sad and quiet. He has lost his leg very high up. He was taking some rice to his father in the paddy fields when he was hit by a tractor. He could not wear the leg he had been given before because it hurt, it was very heavy and he could not bend his knee.
But his family moved us. He had two lovely sisters and his smiling mother offered us coffee, and invited us into the family’s small but beautifully kept house. She was very badly scarred and she explained she had fallen into a fire a few years ago. Many of the world’s poor cook on fires on the ground and this too can be a cause of limb loss. Kareem just smiled in the delight he was going to finally get a new leg. He sang to us, and his sisters taught Jennie how to dance.
Seeing the amputees in their homes taught us so much. To see the very simple, but sometimes hard, lives they live is eye opening but to live like this without a limb is unimaginable. But for some, just getting to the limb centre is impossible. This means many amputee children are unable to access the care they need.
So, we have provided the first ever mobile amputee clinic. It is simply amazing and it was finally delivered the day before we left India to come back to England. It means the prosthetist, who is called Sunny John, will visit those who cannot come to the clinic, he will measure them at their homes and their limbs will be delivered a few days later. This will both change and save lives. If Sunny John is worried about the growth or health of a child he will safely take them back to HEAL for a while and they will be looked after with the love and care they need. He will take their mothers too and they will be looked after too and if they need an operation they will have one.
Thank you so much for supporting us already with our work with these special children, who we know need us so much. I hope you enjoy looking at our beautiful photographs.