I got a call from Tom McCormack this morning. He said, if I got a chance, to drop by where he was fitting legs. He had a room in Casa de Jubilados, which is to the left off Brenes at the stop light by the police station. I am sure you remember Tom from the posts I have done about the containers he has brought to Panama.
I took Tom up on his invitation. He said he is there 4 days a week and people just show up. He said he has six to eight people waiting every day and never is able to see all that come.
Tom gave me his statistics, of the people he had seen, and if I remember correct, the reason for the loss of legs were almost equal between accidents and diabetes. In many cases, a person has a better chance of utilizing a prosthesis if the loss is because of an accident rather than diabetes.
I was there while he saw three people. Two men had lost their legs because of accidents and the lady had lost her leg 10 months ago because of diabetes.
Tom is a person of infinite patience. His biggest problem in assisting the people that come is not having enough different sized parts. He has become an expert in adapting the parts he has to satisfy the majority of people’s needs.
In the U.S. a person might go to a clinic to get fitted and it would only be a matter of choosing size and type of appliance needed, and spending time with the doctor to get it fitted. Many of the prostheses that Tom is providing would run $15,000 to $20,000 and the doctor’s time might cost the same.
Tom charges too. At the end of each visit I watched, Tom ended the session asking if they were ready to pay. As jaws drop and blood rush from their face, Tom smiles and says, “it’s only five!” as he extends his hand.
The man that Tom was working with when I arrived was an ex police man and lost his leg as a result of being shot three times in the leg. His need was for a complete leg prosthesis. This is him trying the leg out on the walking area. Another satisfied customer.
To qualify, a person has to be ambulatory. If they have been confined to a wheel chair for several years, their muscles may have atrophied. This is one of the stressful parts of what Tom does. When you see people in need and you know you can’t help, then it is a real torment. Tom helps those he can.
However, the ones he is able to help gives him the lift he needs to continue. He said a lady he helped the other day left walking perfectly. He said tears were streaming down her face because she thought she would never walk normally again.
Later the same night she called Ruby, Tom’s able assistant, and told Ruby that her four children were all crying when they saw her walking. There are just somethings in life that are worth more than money and giving a person their life back ranks right at the top.
In the photo to the left, the leg on the left was being used by a young man that came in to see Tom. Tom fitted him with a leg like the one on the right. His old leg was not stable. When he raised his leg, the lower part would swing like a pendulum. The new one was very stable. Many of the prostheses come from Germany.
On the young man’s old appliance the heal had broken and he was using a wadded up lump of La Prenza.
Tom had another person come in and tell him that the screw in his old prothesis foot was loose. Tom showed me his old foot. It was a wooden foot with a stick the diameter of a broom stick shoved into a hole drilled into the wooden foot and the other end of the stick was shoved into a bottle that had been fashioned to be used as a prothesis. Necessity is the mother of invention and this person had done as good as he could with what he had.
Tom’s replacement was a tremendous improvement and greatly appreciated.
The lady you see here, trying out her new leg, had lost her leg to diabetes ten months ago. She has been coming to Tom for six weeks still working on getting her leg correct. Tom has learned to make many modifications on the parts he brought from the states.
One thing that creates the necessity for adjustment is that being able to exercise causes the individual to lose weight. Loss of weight means that an appliance that might have originally fit, may now be too big.
She was fitted with a complete leg that attached on the stump that remained above the knee. This prothesis had a switch that you had to use when the individual sat down to allow the leg to bend. Again, something like this would cost more than many Panamanians make in a year. Of course that assumes that they can work and without a limb, they probably can’t. Tom’s assistance literally changes lives.
Fitting one of these prothesis requires a lot of trust on the part of the individual needing help. Men are going to have to drop their pants so that the leg can be fitted. Obviously women will have to raise the dress or skirt for access to the leg. Ruby is always there to help and I am sure that easies the embarrassment.
The fellow in this photo was here for the first time. Tom started of with some general questions, such as when was the loss of limb, what was the cause, had the individual ever used a prothesis before?
He had lost his leg as a result of an accident. Tom was still working on trying to get the fit acceptable when I had to leave. Hopefully, the successes that Tom has had on this project will result in more donations from the states.
Tom has fitted over forty legs on this trip. That is forty lives that have been made more useful. That is forty families that speak well of gringos. Tom is a great role model for the rest of us.
Now what can you do? If you want to contribute to Tom and his wife’s foundation, visit its website. There are other worthwhile organizations in Chiriquí too. I mentioned Bid 4 Boquete the other day. Nutre Hogar is a Panamanian organization that can always use help either in time or money.
Last but not least, as you go about your day, think about how lucky you are. You can brighten someone else’s day by just passing out a smile and a kind word. Say gracias to the checker at the supermarket or fruit stand. Remember to tip the bag boy who is only paid by you. Tell your friends and family how important they are in your life.
We may not be able to change people’s lives like Tom does, but each of us, in our own way, can contribute to a better world.