How did LifEnabled begin?
In 2006, Brent Wright, Certified Prosthetist and Board Certified Orthotist, was invited by Tim and Doris Spurrier, founders of Hospital Shalom in San Benito, Guatemala, to launch the hospital’s prosthetic program with a free prosthetic clinic. The first clinic began in a cinderblock room, with no electricity, and a handful of used, donated limbs and components. It didn’t take long for Brent to realize this method was not ideal or sustainable. As he returned to the States, he quickly began to research other alternatives. Through some trial and error, Brent, along with Frank Hodges (owner of SunStone Lab, central fabrication facility) designed an improved prosthetic system, making it affordable to provide a brand new, customized limb to each patient.
Over the years, various friends and co-workers came alongside to help with the clinics, as well as family members such as Brent’s wife Meredith and Frank’s wife Danielle. By 2016 it was evident that, with the growth of clinic needs along with the overall scope of improving prosthetics in the developing world, it was necessary to establish our own organization; thus, LifEnabled was created in 2015.
In recent years, while still offering hands-on clinics, we are diligently researching and developing new ideas and technological advancements to broaden our reach. This includes the development of our own App, DigiScan 3D as well as 3D printing processes. Our desire is to create a sustainable model that others can use to provide prosthetics throughout the developing world.
Tell me more about the prosthesis.
Several key factors come into play when selecting an appropriate prosthetic system in the developing world. Most of our patients live physically demanding lives in an environment that is rugged, hot, humid, and dirty. Things such as a gel liner just don’t work well in the developing world. An appropriate prosthesis needs to be simple, without a lot of moving parts that can easily break or get corroded and dirty. An appropriate prosthesis must also be extremely durable, especially the feet!
The current prosthetic system LifEnabled uses begins with a fiberglass cast that is used to create a plaster mold. This mold is used to make custom modifications per the patients specific shape and size. After modification of the mold, a heated, co-polymer plastic is wrapped around it to create the patients lightweight socket. Last, a durable, aluminum pylon is attached, along with an axis bearing self locking knee joint (if needed) and a Niagra foot. This combination is versatile enough to work for all patients, above-the-knee, below-the-knee, adults and pediatrics and has proven to withstand the demands of life in the developing world.
We are also researching advanced technology with 3D printing processes the use of our own App, DigiScan 3D. More developments to come!
How much does a prosthesis cost?
One of the key factors we realized from the beginning is that affordability is crucial. Many of our patients in Guatemala live on just a few dollars a day. Affording a prosthesis is simply unattainable. We provide our prostheses at no cost to the patients, which means we rely heavily on our generous partners and donors. In order to reach as many patients as possible, we designed a system that includes appropriate technology for the developing world at a price that allows our services to remain sustainable. In the U.S. a prosthesis can cost anywhere from $5k to $100k! Our system averages about $150 per below-the-knee prosthesis and $300 per above-the-knee. That is for a brand new, fully customized prosthesis! It is something the patients can wear with pride.
What if patients need an adjustment or repair?
Both in the U.S. and overseas all prosthetic patients need adjustments and/or repairs at some point. Accidents happen and residual limbs shrink and expand for various reasons; it’s an expected part of being an amputee. Thankfully, our prosthetic system lends itself to fewer repairs than others. Since our lab is at Hospital Shalom, there are a handful of missionaries who live and work permanently at that location and have had some technical training with us during previous clinics. We leave extra parts and components at the lab for any emergency repairs that cannot wait until our next clinic. Otherwise, patients sign up for follow-up care as needed during upcoming clinics.
Do you currently offer prosthetic training?
Currently, we are improving technology with the DigiScan App and other innovative processes that we hope to soon be able to train others to use to expand our reach.
We do, also, always have a need for some helping hands during each clinic in Guatemala. If you are interested in seeing what we do first hand and coming along to help we can train you on whatever skills you need as we go. Please contact us if you are interested. We would love to have you join us.
Being an amputee comes with many obvious physical challenges, but hidden inside there are a lot of emotional obstacles to overcome as well. Many amputees feel a sense of being incomplete without their limb and in the developing world their “value” to the community is lost. Amputee children are often hidden away, as an embarrassment to the family, which means they don’t get a chance to attend school or engage with peers. Our desire is to pour every ounce of love and encouragement we can offer into our patients while they are with us and to fill a tangible need by providing a prosthesis that allows them to reengage in an active life. Our ultimate goal is for each patient to leave knowing that they are uniquely loved by their Creator, and to experience His love throughout the process.