Such a Deal

How can I NOT raise money for this organization when they can make a leg for $300?

Thirty two years ago, just after my accident, my first prosthetic leg cost about $15,000.00. Though insurance covered the bill, I couldn't help but compare the cost of my new leg to the cost of my new car just a few years later: $18,000.00. It wasn't a fancy car, but it certainly wasn't a clunker, either. I had that car for eight years and loved it.

Every four or five years I have a new prosthetic leg made. Changes in my body and worn out parts both dictate when it's time to be fitted for a new leg. With each new leg there are new products on the market to consider: feet, knees, and sockets. Until recently, I have usually picked middle of the road parts; I wanted reliability and function mixed with a little bit of the state-of-the-art technology, like a Honda.

With my most recent leg I decided to go for the gusto and get the Mercedes of all knees. I am now walking on (a chorus of angels, please) the "C-Leg". This knee is amazing. They say it feels like getting your leg back again. It doesn't, but it does allow me to walk down stairs like a two-legged person. It allows me to walk across uneven ground, like on grass or a dirt path, with full confidence that I won't fall. The knee does so much of the work for me, making sure it doesn't buckle from underneath me. I plug my leg in every night to re-charge the internal battery. The leg has a sensor which reads, about 50 times a second, where I'm putting my weight and adjusts the knee accordingly. And the leg rotates at the ankle, which may not sound like much, but to stand still and twist my body without torque on my back is a huge deal.

But there is a price for this technology. The leg I'm walking on now costs $50,000.00. Most insurance companies cover the C-Leg because of its ability to reduce falls (and any associated hospital bills as a result), and mine was no exception.

When I heard that the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation makes each of their legs for $300 I wondered how they do it. I wondered how shoddy these legs are. I wondered how comfortable they can possibly be for a mere $300. I saw one of these legs a few weeks ago when I was at the POF office in Seattle. The leg, typical of the many legs made for people in Vietnam or Sierra Leone was amazing. The knee is a spring, the foot is a basic rubber foot, but sturdy and tough, which is important in countries where people often go barefoot. The socket looked much like mine; they are made in the same way as mine and great care is taken to ensure that they fit properly. The leg was lightweight which keeps it comfortable and the rest of one's body aligned properly.

POF doesn't make the legs, they send volunteer prosthetists to teach people who live in these countries how to make them. Folks in these countries even manufacture the parts, keeping the costs low. But more importantly, it keeps the prosthetic industry in these countries sustainable.

I know that the leg I walk on is vastly different than the legs made for folks in developing countries. I know I come from such privilege. Everything about my world is so different than that of someone in rural Vietnam. But we do share the need to be upright and walking on a comfortable, functional leg.

I know a good deal when I see one. These legs are not only a good deal for the folks who wear them, but they are a good deal for the countries who make them.