As promised, below is my recent interview with Colleen Haggerty, friend and fellow writer. Colleen has a fascinating and inspiring story to tell. She also has a cause she is very passionate about. I hope you’ll take the time to read our interview and to visit Colleen’s site.
I understand you’re about to begin your second annual campaign to raise money for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation. Can you tell readers what this is, exactly? Where does the money go? Why is this so important to you?
I am walking 100 miles in 100 days to raise money for 100 prosthetic legs for amputees in developing countries. I’m volunteering for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation whose mission is to improve the mobility and independence of disabled folks in developing countries.
I’m really passionate about this organization and this cause because I, too, am an amputee. I live a privileged life in a privileged country which means I have access to the latest technology in prosthetics. When I visited thePOF they had home-made prosthetic legs people in Vietnam had made. One was made from bamboo and another was made out of metal. When I looked at those home-made legs, all I could see was pain. I fought back the tears when I saw how desperate people were to walk. They looked so uncomfortable. It’s important to me that, no matter where people live, they should be able to do the most basic human function: walk.
These amputees are victims of landmines, war, natural disasters and accidents. They do not have access to health care like we do here in America. What’s most distressing to me is that in most developing countries, people with disabilities often cannot go to school or hold down a job. If they are not able to contribute to their families or their communities they simply end up becoming a burden. Just a $300 leg allows someone to go from beggar on the street to a bike mechanic earning money for his family.
I’ve known you for a few years now, Colleen, and I know you can speak to how important it is to have a prosthetic that fits your body. Can you explain to readers how a good prosthetic can change someone’s life?
Well, like I say, those legs at the POF office looked so painful. I couldn’t imagine walking on a metal leg! Part of the reason I decided to walk for the POF was because a couple of years ago, when I was getting a new leg made, my prosthetist and I decided to try a new style of socket. It took two years of trying, but we just couldn’t get it to fit right. I lost a lot of function in those two years when I didn’t have a proper fitting leg. Each socket is made to each specific person. I would never be able to slip on another person’s prosthetic leg and be able to walk in it.
Without a good fit, walking is simply painful. Without a good fit, there can be skin breakdown which is not only painful, but can lead to more serious problems. For an above the knee amputee, such as myself, I say that making a leg is part science and part art. The knee unit – the technology – is the science and making the socket – the part the residual limb fits into – is the art.
You walked 100 miles in 100 days last year and are about to start your 100-mile journey again. What were the challenges for you last year? The victories? Is there anything you’ll do differently this year?
The challenges last year were twofold. First, it was hard to walk on hot days. Since I’m a natural red head, I have sensitive skin. The rubbing and chaffing on hot days made for some painful walking. And secondly, some days it was hard to find the time, the half hour I need, to walk a mile. There are days when I am going from morning to night and I had to fit my walk in at 10:00 or 11:00 at night.
It was a true victory just to finish the 100 miles. And while I didn’t reach my financial goal, it was a victory to raise $13,500.00 for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation. That’s enough for 45 people to get a prosthetic leg.
All the money I raised last year was from individual donations – which blows me away. I am so grateful to the many people who stepped up and supported me. This year I want to find some corporate sponsors. I’ll be walking my 100th mile at the POF’s 2nd annual Walk-a-thon at Marymoor Park, so this is a great opportunity for sponsors to show their support.
What is so special about the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation? How are they different from other providers of prosthetics?
What I appreciate about the POF is that they teach people in developing countries how to make the legs – they aren’t creating jobs for Americans there. So, for instance, when I spoke with POF’s Director of Programs, Ray Pye, he talked me through each step of how they make the legs in Vietnam. They learned that they had to vulcanize the rubber for the foot differently so that the rubber could withstand the extreme humidity of that country. They make every part of the leg in Vietnam, down to the screws, which keeps the costs low. Each leg costs just $300. When you compare that to my leg, which cost $50,000.00, you can see what a deal that is! And they are currently working with agencies in Haiti to create a similar program there for all the people who became amputees as a result of the earthquake.
When we had coffee together the other day, you mentioned that much of the media focuses on individuals who have lost limbs in combat and, while that is certainly a worthy focus, there are many average people who have lost limbs in accidents or through diseases. Can you talk about your concern for people who fly under the radar in terms of getting the treatment/ equipment they need?
Like I said, my leg cost $50,000.00. Part of the reason it was so expensive is because I switched to the “Mercedes” of all knee units, but even so, legs in this country cost an “arm and a leg!” For the people we see on the news, many of them have corporate sponsors who pick up the tab, but for the average Joe and Jane with a simple medical plan, even paying 80% of the cost of a leg is a lot of money, especially when you consider that prosthetic legs only last about 5 years.
In the 33 years I’ve been an amputee, the trend has been to portray amputees in the media in a positive light, which I sincerely appreciate. And I notice that the amputees portrayed are doing something grand and extreme, like biking across the country or scaling a mountain. The vast majority of amputees can’t fathom doing those things, just like the vast majority of the able-bodied population can’t. It’s a strange and unrealistic barometer for us to have for “amputee role models.” I think it’s enough, in fact it’s a lot, that I walk a mile a day. I’m proud of that.
How can we help?
Spread the word. I’d love more people to know that there are a lot of hidden people in developing countries who are ostracized from their communities because those cultures do not have the same acceptance of disabled folks than we do. If those folks can get a prosthetic leg and contribute to their families and communities, it’s good for everyone.
What else would you like readers to know?
This year I am asking other amputees, or anyone for that matter, to start their own walking campaign in their own communities. The POF and I have developed a tool kit that helps people through the simple steps of creating their own 100 miles in 100 days campaign. If your readers know of an amputee or anyone who wants to tackle walking a mile a day, please send them my way. I am here to act as a support to anyone who wants to walk with me.
People can also read about my walking campaign last year on my blog at http://mymilewalk.wordpress.com.
Thank you, Cami. It’s been great talking with you!
Thanks to you, Colleen. I appreciate your commitment and ability to bring awareness to this topic. I mentioned to you when we met that I visited Haiti more than 20 years ago, and even at that time, before the earthquake which devastated the country, it was hard for anyone with a disability to get around. The roads were uneven—not set up for wheelchairs or crutches—and full of obstacles (in fact, most people I saw who were missing legs got around on their hands with a piece of cardboard under their bodies to prevent chafing to their lower extremities). Now that so many have been injured from the recent tragedies there, your campaign is more critical than ever.
For those who want to contact Colleen or find out about her fund-raising took kit, she can be reached through her blog, mymilewalk.com, or I can certainly get a message to her as well.