Giving them a hand

Rotaractors shake hands with Kanniammal who has a new LN 4 arm fitted at the camp.
Rotaractors shake hands with Kanniammal who has a new LN 4 arm fitted at the camp.

Eleven-year-old Nila’s face is a sight to behold as she writes her name on a piece of paper. It is a big achievement for the girl who has just got an artificial hand fitted at the mega camp organised by RC ­Mettupalayam, RID 3202. “My daughter is very brilliant. She was born with this deformity, depite which she rides a bicycle, plays kabbadi like a pro and is an expert in making soft toys — all this with just one hand,” says Nila’s mother with tears in her eyes and the little girl chips in: “I will be able to achieve more now that I have two hands,” showing off her newly-
fitted hand.

On the next desk is Kanniammal (70), who has travelled from a remote village near Erode, to attend this camp. Her right hand had been severed two years ago, when she intervened in a quarrel between her son and few other youngsters just outside her home. “Can I cook my own food now?” She asks the Rotaractor-volunteers helping fit her new arm. One of them immediately shows her a demo-video, on his mobile phone, of a woman rolling out chapattis and a man riding a motorbike with their artificial hands. With a shy smile and hope in her eyes she says: “At this age I don’t want to ride a bike. All I want to do is to be able to wear my sari and cook my kanji (porridge). I feel uncomfortable asking for help every time….” The boys cheer her saying, “You can do all that and much more Paati,” and urge her to extend her newly-fitted arm to shake hands with them, which she does with a big smile.

Ezhumalai (45) from ­Tiruvannamalai had lost both his upper limbs and one of his legs in an electrical short circuit. He pleads with the volunteer to fit both his hands with prosthetics. “I have to depend on my wife for everything. She is the breadwinner — working as a domestic help in a couple of homes. I want to contribute something for my family,” he says, with hope in his eyes.

DG Dr E K Ummer (centre) with a beneficiary and Rotarians of RC Nilambur. K V Mohankumar (right), LN 4 Ambassador for South Asia, is also seen.
DG Dr E K Ummer (centre) with a beneficiary and Rotarians of RC Nilambur. K V Mohankumar (right), LN 4 Ambassador for South Asia, is also seen.

The camp venue, MetRo ­Matriculation School, was abuzz with people, young and old, waiting their turn to receive the LN 4 hand. The school, a sprawling campus in the foothills of the Nilgiris, is the club’s pride, built in 1975, and caters to 2,000 children in the region with free education for the poor and a subsidised fee for others.

The screening for the camp was done a week earlier and the club has coordinated with RC Poona Downtown, RID 3131, for the prosthetic aids. Sixteen Rotarians from Pune have come down to assist the Rotarians of Mettupalayam after shipping about 850 LN 4 hands by surface transport. Two volunteers — Rukmini, a friend of Sarala Kannan, the First Lady of D 3000, and Dr Mounika, a physiotherapist from Hyderabad, also pitched in with their expertise.

Club President and Project Chairman Dr Aravinth Karthikeyan moves around the venue, ensuring that the fitments are done without a hitch. “We responded to a mail from Anil Chadda, Project Chair of RID 3131 for Gift of Mobility, announcing availability of the LN 4 devices. Initially we aimed at just 50 fitments. But Chadda threw a challenge. He said if you bring less than 100 beneficiaries you have to bear the entire expenses; and if it is above 200, we will take care of all our expenses. This got me going,” he says.

L S Sidduram is the Project Coordinator. The club wrapped up the day with a record 750 fitments, after screening 1,200 disabled people, thanks to wide publicity through social and print media. People who had lost their hand in an accident or were born with the deformity were all happy and excited to go back home with a new hand, and along with that, a renewed hope for a better tomorrow.

Ezhumalai, who has lost both arms in an accident, talking with RC Mettupalayam President Dr Aravinth Karthikeyan as President-elect Dr Vijayagiri looks on.
Ezhumalai, who has lost both arms in an accident, talking with RC Mettupalayam President Dr Aravinth Karthikeyan as President-elect Dr Vijayagiri looks on.

All the beneficiaries were given a kit comprising a user manual, training material and photograph of the sponsor, all put together in a colourful envelope with a handwritten note or a painting from an LN 4 user. Each of these aids have been sponsored by beneficiary families from across the world, points out Sujata Malkar, a member of the Pune club. Food and refreshments were provided for the beneficiaries and caretakers at the camp venue.

DG E K Ummer who visited the camp complimented the turnout here as also the two-day camp at ­Nilambur which was executed the previous week by RC Nilambur, along with RC ­Spandana ­Bangalore, RID 3190. Vinod P Menon was the Camp ­Chairman and Dileef, the ­Convener. About 400 people benefitted from the programme, says Club President Gigi Thomas.

Pictures by Jaishree

LN 4 Ambassador

K V Mohankumar, the LN 4 Ambassador for South Asia and a member of RC Bangalore Prime, RID 3190, explained the present scenario of LN 4 fitments in the country. While artificial lower limbs are popular and widely used, the awareness on LN 4 hands is yet to gain momentum. According to the 2011 census, two per cent of our population is differently-abled, and of that only five per cent have access to relevant information. “Many people do not know whom to approach. Rotary is doing a wonderful job in conducting these fitment camps. Today we have about 18 permanent limb centres across the country and people can just walk in and get the limb free of cost.” According to a conservative estimate, about five lakh people live today without upper limbs which they have lost for various reasons. “We have touched only 14,000 people. This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he says.

Mohankumar is actively promoting LN 4 fitment camps across the country. He recalls how in 2006 his club conducted the fitments without proper training. “We referred to YouTube videos. But the next year the Ellen Meadows Foundation team came down from the US and trained us to do the fitment and train beneficiaries to use the prosthetics efficiently. From then on there is no looking back.” This year has been “phenomenal” as 2,600-plus people have got LN 4 fitments, thanks to Rotary clubs across India.

Each camp is quite unique. In the recently concluded Nilambur camp, “we found lot of people with congenital deformities. In Rajasthan, people lost their hands due to agricultural accidents.” In general, wherever there is low awareness of safety the incidence of numbers turning up at camps is very big. More focus should be given on the tribal belts, he says. As for spreading the message, he highlights a club where Rotarians went to schools and announced their upcoming camp in the assembly. “Children are the best messengers, especially in small hamlets.”

Yet, with all the popularity of the LN 4 device, he says that ensuring its use by the beneficiaries is still a grey area which needs more focus. The LN 4 committee is providing career guidance too to such beneficiaries.

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