Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 4, 2013

Volunteers bring mobility to amputees


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Todd Stone and Ryan Fettig expected to have the weekend off when they arrived in the Dominican Republican several weeks ago with 27 prosthetic arms, hands, legs and feet weighing a total of 300 pounds.

Instead, the Teter Orthotics and Prosthetics team found 24 amputees waiting for them early Saturday morning when they arrived at the Samana Hospital. They worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., fitting and adjusting the new artificial limbs for 16 amputees who traveled the longest distances.

“I can’t tell you how happy these people were,” said Stone, Teter’s new owner and CEO since May 2012. “It was unbelievable. Most were crying. Some forgot to take their crutches and had to come back. And food just kept showing up every day.”

The parking lot was full and waiting room packed, he said. Many families had traveled long distances and camped on hospital property. By week’s end, the team had fitted 26 amputees with free prostheses especially made for them in Traverse City. They also measured 16 amputees who unexpectedly showed up at the hospital in the hope of getting an artificial limb, too.

Stone and Fettig worked on three patients at a time in the hospital’s delivery room. Anytime a mother-to-be was ready to give birth, the room had to be cleared of people and work materials.

“Fortunately, there weren’t many births that week,” Stone said.

The trip was a follow-up to a previous journey Stone made to Samana in October with a Midwest Medical Mission group composed of Traverse City, Cadillac and other mostly northern Michigan doctors and nurses.

Samana is a city of 90,000 located along the eastern shore of the small Caribbean nation, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Many people cannot afford medical care. Most of the amputations resulted from machete fights, moped/motorcycle-pedestrian accidents and birth defects. Dominion doctors often amputate injured limbs because poor people there don’t have access to complicated orthopedic surgeries that can save arms, legs, hands and feet.

Stone measured 26 people for prostheses on that trip and returned to the Teter home office and workshop in Traverse City to make them with the help of four employees — Fettig, Rob Garvin, Lisa Schaub and Jeremy Crawford. They worked for a month from 5 to 9 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Half of that time was paid and half donated.

Donations also came from Terry Walters of Ace Welding & Machine, who made and donated several components and specialty devices to the effort, as did Ace Hardware in Traverse City and Benny’s Construction in Petoskey. Other members of the local Midwest Medical Mission group raised about $750.

The parts used in the February mission came mostly from stripped- down prostheses that had accumulated in Teter Orthotics’ 55 offices around the state.

“What happens is that when people pass away, their spouses often bring back prostheses,” he said.

New prostheses below the knee generally cost about $10,000 new, and $18,000 above the knee. Above-elbow artificial arms run about $10,000; below-elbow about $6,000.

Stone said he spent $15,000 of his own money on supplies and travel expenses to transport them to the Dominican Republic. Originally he planned to ship the artificial limbs to Samana, but Dominican Republic contacts feared the artificial limbs would never arrive.

Stone and Fettig arrived at the Grand Rapids airport at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 1 with six 50-pound packages and small carry-on backpacks for themselves. They each checked one of the 50-pound packages as luggage. Total cost for the other four was about $600, he said.

Airport security agents asked Stone and Fettig to identify and take apart each artificial limb so they could check hollow areas.

“We had no trouble at all getting into the Dominion Republic,” Stone said. .

He and staff volunteers will build prosthetic devices in June for the people measured during February. The plan is to return to the Samana with the mission group in October to fit them.

“We ran out of parts,” he said. “Now I’m looking for more.”

Prostheses and other donations can be made by calling Teter Orthotics’ at (800) 346-0161.