A modern solution for amputees

Rama Ariadi / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Ki How Tran, centre, and his brother Ki Chong, right, display a limb prototype alongside an ARC Hub volunteer. Supplied

Beneath the spires of Wat Saravoan, Yeang Bun Eang told the story of the day that changed his life.

“I was playing with my friends – you know, just children being children,” he said, shifting ever so slightly in his seat. “But I will always remember that day as the day that changed my life forever.”

Bun Eang was on a field when he stepped on a landmine which caused such extensive damage that doctors decided to amputate his left leg. He now has a prosthetic limb and his right leg still bears the horrible scars from that day.

“However, I consider myself lucky as I managed to rebuild my life and become what I am right now,” he said. “There are many fellow Cambodians who had no choice but to accept their new reality and life as an amputee.”

Bun Eang is a success story. He exudes pride and optimism and is now the executive director of CABDICO, an NGO that supports people with disabilities – including victims of unexploded ordinances (UXO) like himself.

Back in 2009, the Cambodian government passed the Law on Protection and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and subsequent sub-decrees in 2011 that guarantees citizens with ‘severe functional impairment’ a monthly stipend of $5.

“This is a move in the right direction, but it’s easy to look around and judge for ourselves, the success of this move,” sighed Bun Eang.

“In Phnom Penh – where access to medical care is more readily accessible – amputees begging for money is still a common sight,” he continued.

“But in poorer, rural areas, like in the outskirts of Siem Reap, or even Kep, the situation is much worse and no one is paying attention to the needs of handicapped people.

“Instead of a declining trend, what we’re seeing instead is a rise in the number of amputees.”

As the number of motorised vehicles in use continues to rise, so has the number of road-related accidents. In fact, according to Handicap International’s report, they have overtaken UXO-related incidents since the kingdom began to step up its efforts to clear UXOs in 1999.

Yeang Bun Eang lost a leg in a UXO accident as a child and now helps other people with disabilities. KT/Rama Ariadi

For many amputees in Cambodia (where as many as 34 percent of the population still earns less than $2 a day, according to the Asian Development Bank’s 2017 statistics), $5 makes little difference to their lived experiences, especially considering the price of a prosthetic limb can be as high as $5,000. The average family in the country only earns less than $3,000 annually.

This is where two Cambodian-Americans come into the picture.

When brothers Ki Chong and Ki How Tran packed their bags for Cambodia from California, they initially wanted to bring 3D printing technology with them.

“When my brother and I first started ARC Hub we read a lot about 3D printing and the benefits that it could bring about for the masses,” said Tran.

“We then stumbled upon Project Daniel and E-Nable, which made us realise that 3D printing can be used to positively impact the lives of amputees,” he said.

“Because we had the technology, we decided that 3D-printed prosthetics was something that we had to strive to accomplish.”

In conjunction with Canada-based NGO Victoria Hand Project and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, the brothers put their plan into action.

“We worked with one of the [ministry’s] clinics in Siem Reap, which takes a mold of the patient’s limb,” explained Tran.

The mold, which is then sent to their workspace in Phnom Penh, is then scanned, printed and painted, before it is sent back to Siem Reap to be fitted by the patient’s physician.

“A prosthetic involves two people at the clinic – someone who creates the mold and someone who outfits the prosthetic,” said Tran. “The production time, from start to assembly, takes about 40 hours to complete.”

To date, ARC Hub has outfitted 25 amputees with their 3D-printed prosthetics, which cost around $320 per piece.

Spurred on by their success, the brothers have plans to expand their services.

“There are limitations to the 3D printers we have available and the material that we can use,” said Tran.

“We hope in the future as new materials become available and advances in the technology become more accessible that we can use them to create a wide array of medical devices.”

For Cambodia’s amputees, having access to ARC Hub’s affordable prosthetics could be life-changing. However, as Cambodia moves to shed its Least Developed Country status, the amount of funding from international donors is slowly declining and the government’s seemingly ambivalent attitude towards enforcing its own disability law is creating a new problem – increasing despair among Cambodia’s amputees.

“We have to do what we can to make everyone understand that despite having no leg or no arm, we can do anything,” said Bun Eang. “We might look different, but in the end, we are all human beings.”

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