Putting their new leg forward

From war victims to tsunami affected to those with congenital problems, the Colombo Friend- in- Need Society marks 25 years of giving a helping limb, so that they can walk on their own
By Megara Tegal, Pix by J. Weerasekera

Gripping the support bars of the ramp at the Colombo Friend- in-Need Society (CFINS), Dinesh Kumara (24) puts one foot carefully ahead of the other as he trains himself to walk again.

Tall and well built, Dinesh was a Special Task Forces Officer. He lost his limb to a landmine while on duty at Nandikadhal on May 17, last year- the day before the war was won. About a year later he has received his first prosthetic limb. He smiles widely as he tells us how delighted he is with his new limb and how much he is looking forward to walking independently.

Like Dinesh there are many others- a young girl, a former Ports Authority employee and a housewife, all learning to walk with prosthetic limbs at the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society. Thrilled to be able to walk independently, without the support of crutches or being confined to a wheel chair, they are but four of the countless number of people the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society (CFINS) has helped ever since it began making prosthetic limbs in 1985.

The patients are provided the limbs free of charge and these are custom made by the CFINS to suit the height, physical shape and skin colour of each patient. The artificial limbs, also known as orthotic appliances, are developed under the Jaipur foot technique.

Those who have come to CFINS for artificial limbs are of a wide mix. Not only are they from different religions, race, social status, gender and age, they are also in need of limbs for different reasons.
Hasna Abdul Rahman needs a right limb as she has a congenital condition.

Ranjith Hapuarachi (55), was employed at the Ports Authority when he lost his limb in a motor vehicle accident. “The accident occurred in February last year. I was on my way to the hospital because I had been diagnosed with water in my lungs when I was hit by a vehicle,” recalls Ranjith.

“At first the doctors told me that my leg would heal, but two months later the infection had spread to the underside of my foot, the bone at the heel was visible and I had to undergo an amputation.” Ranjith received his first prosthetic limb last week after more than a year of being confined to a wheelchair. Pleased with his new artificial limb he is looking forward to walking once again.

Dinesh is one of many casualties of the 30-year conflict who received prosthetic limbs free from CFIN since the war broke out. The society has also conducted seven mobile workshops and given over 600 limbs in the liberated areas- a project that is headed by Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Dr. J.K.S. Weerasekera. The Board of Management of CFINS consists of volunteers, several of whom are leading members of the medical profession, engineers, company directors and executives from the corporate sector.

President of CFINS Kalyani Ranasinghe says that 80% of the patients they help are between the ages of 18 to 30 years and goes on to explain that younger children need to have their prosthetic limbs replaced frequently as they grow. “Last month 138 limbs were given out of which eight were to Army officers and one to a civilian- all of whom were victims of the conflict. There were also four farmers who had lost their limbs to trap gun injuries.”

The patients who receive limbs take part in workshops lasting two to three weeks depending on how long they take to become stable on their prosthetic limb, before they return home without support devices.

The CFINS goes one step further to help the patients who are less fortunate by providing them with free loans that they pay back when they are financially able. Children are given education grants so that they will not be deprived of an education because they are differently abled.

CFINS has strived hard to be true to their motto- “They shall not suffer”. They have come forward to help the casualties of war, the tsunami and even those beyond Sri Lanka’s shores. When Pakistan was struck by the devastating earthquake in 2005, CFINS technicians and doctors worked with the Pakistani casualties and trained the locals in providing for their needs.

The society has been helping the differently-abled for the past 25 years and the appreciation of their work is seen in the fact that some of their patients return to offer their services to the organisation. From technicians to doctors they are giving back to CFINS in whatever way they can.

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