Kuppusamy, all of 70, gives me a toothless smile when I ask him how it feels to be up on his feet again. Pointing to his wife, he says, “I don’t have to trouble her anymore. She too will be relieved now that I can do my chores all by myself.” He was at the artificial limb centre run by RC Coimbatore Midtown, D 3201, getting his left leg custom-fitted. He had lost his limb, following a fatal fall from a tree while plucking coconuts.
The centre, called the Rotary Midtown Sri Gopaldas Kikani Artificial Limb Centre established in 2004, is a spacious campus where limbs are custom-made and provided free to the needy across Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry.
The centre was set up after a three-day polio corrective surgery camp treated 300 children in 1985. “While providing calipers to the children, we realised the mammoth need for this kind of a centre,” says Suresh Gokuldas, the Charter Secretary of this 45-year-old club.
It feels good to say that you have put five or ten people on their feet instead of saying that you donated so much money.
— Pragash Angappan
Secretary, Mobile Artificial Limb Project
Camps are conducted regularly in association with other Rotary clubs, NGOs and corporates and the club has distributed 18,500 limbs so far.
“It gives us all great satisfaction to see so many men, women and children hitherto confined to a wheelchair or bed, and who had come in crawling, being able to walk, their dignity restored,” says Rtn Baboo Kannan. He was instrumental in setting up outreach centres in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, having signed MoUs with the respective governments in 2005.
The project — Walk Again — is funded by the club members through a trust for which Gokuldas is the chair. The 12-member committee includes Virendra Chopra, Pragash Angappan and S Rajasekhar. With the then District Collector N Muruganandham sanctioning 22 cents of land in the city’s suburbs, the Gopaldas Kikani Trust under its Managing Trustee Tushar Kikani sponsored the construction of the building. A van was donated by club member and industrialist Balchand Bothra.
Rotarians and the general public sponsor few limbs on special occasions like birthday, anniversaries etc. “It feels good to say that you have put five or ten people on their feet instead of saying that you donated so much money,” says Angappan. Recalling an occasion when a Jain family sponsored and participated in a limb donation programme, he said that they were deeply moved when one of the beneficiaries, who walked a few tentative steps after having his limb fitted, fell at the donor’s feet.
“We use export quality HDPE tubes sourced from Hyderabad for making the limbs. They are sturdy, flexible and light-weight, and if maintained well, serve for a minimum four years,” says Rtn Ketan Desai, demonstrating how the limb works. There is a lock mechanism at the knee joint for those in need of a full limb. This enables the person to squat after releasing the lock and put it in place while standing or walking. “The beauty of these limbs is that they don’t limit the wearers’ activity, and they can even ride a bicycle,” says Kannan. He says a recent beneficiary, Kannaiah, pedalled from Pondicherry to Chennai with an artificial limb. Children as young as three years have been fitted with artificial limbs at this centre. The limbs can be affected by deformity at birth or due to a serious accident, he explains. The centre has now diversified into providing assistive devices and gait training for cerebral palsy patients, upper limb prosthesis, calipers and other supportive devices for the needy, he adds.
On the beneficiaries, he says that until two years ago diabetic amputees were more, but of late, more accident victims come here for the artificial limbs.
Out of six matching grants executed by the club, four grants, worth $85,000 were executed exclusively for providing artificial limbs. Recalling Wilf Wilkinson’s visit to the centre when he was the RI President, Kannan says that he was “overwhelmed by the extensive reach of our project. ‘So happy to see that Rotary could put so many thousands of physically-challenged people back on their feet. Congratulations,’ he had recorded in our Visitors’ Book.” Many senior Rotary leaders have visited this centre.
Kannan highlighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the club’s centre in the Philippines and said that he had recently given $200,000 from the PM’s fund for this cause.
While the cost of making each contraption here is ₹ 3,000–4,000, it costs ₹ 50,000 in the Philippines due to the transport cost involved. The demand for artificial limbs is so high there that “we have been advised not to advertise whenever we conduct a camp there. We go by the government hospital records where there is a huge waiting list. The limbs are given to the people free of cost everywhere and we don’t charge any registration or repair fees,” says Gokuldas. About 7,000 limbs have been distributed to date in that country. The centre also caters to war and mine victims in Sri Lanka and is also reaching out to Cambodia now.
Apart from fitting limbs, the club members also ensure that the beneficiaries are gainfully employed. as watchmen, door-keepers and clerks. “An army jawan in Chhattisgarh who lost his limb in a mine blast, and is now employed as a watchman, thanked us profusely after he was fitted with an artificial limb. He is very happy to be independent. Earlier he was abused by his own family,” related Kannan. Some of them are even delivering milk or newspapers riding bicycles.
The club chartered in 1973 is engaged in various other projects that include geriatric care, a neuro-surgical rehab programme for children where the club sponsors treatment of neurological disorders, substance abuse de-addiction camps, adoption of Ekal Vidyalaya schools in tribal villages and sponsoring the nutritious porridge programme in schools to address malnourishment in children. The club is also running the Mahaveer Blood Bank, in association with the Indian Medical Association, since 2004.