A New Life for Old Limbs
I have a closet floor cluttered with sockets, liners, feet, knees and sundry attachments and fixtures. It’s a macabre hoard of fake leg parts and, honestly, I don’t know what most of it does. Altogether, it’s gazillions of dollars’ worth of technology that just lies there in my own private titanium boneyard. Would that there were something to do with all that hardware! Well, there is. Victor Wang is a student at Yale and part of an emerging generation of leaders who believe that doing good and doing well go hand-in-hand. Victor’s future is full of promise for his own success, but his passion in life is giving hope and support to those with fewer opportunities than himself. Victor and his colleagues, Eli Henry Iseman and Brown University’s Trang Duong, head Penta Prosthetics, a nonprofit organization that brings high quality, low-cost prosthetic care to people in Vietnam and Thailand by repurposing used equipment in the U.S.
Victor says, “The idea really took root when I was traveling with my cofounder (Duong) in Vietnam. We visited orphanages and hospitals and we saw the unmet need – so many people, young and old, with limbs lost, sometimes to accidents but often to the legacy of war. I saw a man wearing a homemade prosthetic leg he fashioned from salvaged airplane parts. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible.”
Following their trip, Victor and Trang cofounded Penta Prosthetics. It’s a lean, ef cient operation that succeeds by connecting need with practical solution in a win-win partnership. Penta partners with clinics and organizations in the U.S. to collect used prosthetic devices and establish distribution chains to get donated prosthetics to people who could never dream of getting high-priced new items. “Our work has been mostly in Vietnam, to this point,” says Victor, “but we’re currently expanding into Thailand, where there’s also an enormous unmet need.” Closer to home, Limbs for Life, based in Oklahoma City, is the primary source for no-cost prosthetics limbs and components for uninsured and under-insured Americans living with limb loss. “We have a staff of three,”
says Shelley Dutton, director of development, “and we make quite an impact with very little overhead.”
Limbs for Life has agreements with more than 350 clinics nationwide, providing limbs and components collected from manufacturer overstock and individual donors to patients without prosthetic coverage. In 2017, the organization provided financial support to 298 applicants and supplied prosthetic parts for 343. Of all applicants served, 84 percent live in Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, the three states whose Medicaid programs do not offer prosthetic limb coverage.