One Step at a Time – One Love
Opportunities frequently present themselves when you least expect them. This was the case for me back in 2009. My daughter was travelling to Jamaica for two weeks as part of a parish summer camp. The church had been providing a summer skills camp to improve literacy, self-esteem and life skills to Jamaican children for over 25 years. At the time, they were fundraising for a wheelchair for a young boy with spina bifida who lived in the hills of Jamaica and had never left his home. I had offered to provide a wheelchair and talked to the mom via satellite phone to determine his needs and size. Once I talked to Dante’s mom I realized I could fit the boy with AFO’s and provide an opportunity for him to walk.
I accompanied the church group and brought the young boy the wheelchair and bilateral AFOs. The experience was one which I will never forget. Standing in the middle of a sugar cane field in temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius, the entire community came out to see Dante leave his house for the first time. Everyone was thrilled, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. I was hooked! The braces and wheelchair provided a life changing opportunity for both the boy and myself.
While I was in Jamaica I was approached by a retired nurse who was interested in setting up an orthopedic clinic where physically challenged children could get fitted for braces. The RIU hotel chain committed to financially supporting the paediatric orthotics clinic based in Negril. We have been running this clinic for over 10 years.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to volunteer and work side by side with the locals. I travel to Jamaica with a technician two to three times yearly with the stipulation that they bring two suitcases filled with used orthotic devices, socks and shoes. Usually we travel with 200 pounds of orthopedic braces and componentry. I provide my time, expertise and transportation. In return, I get all the Jamaican patties, jerk chicken, fresh mangos and hugs one could ask for.
The orthotics and prosthetics community in Canada has really shown their charitable character and support over the years. We have received donations from facilities and our clients. Gently used footwear, bracing and socks are greatly appreciated. Our services are provided completely free of charge. The majority of our patients otherwise could not afford the service.
We never know in advance what we are going to see, starting the day at 8 am and working until 8 pm. A four day clinic will be filled with 50 – 60 children with orthopedic concerns, cerebral palsy and spina bifida. There are over 250 children we regularly follow, spanning the entire island of Jamaica. Some will take three to four buses travelling all day to be seen, without a hint of complaint. They are just appreciative of the care they receive. They return home with a custom fit device, socks and footwear. By providing the appropriate care and footwear they now can attend school and participate in their communities.
The life of a physically challenged individual in a country without healthcare is extremely difficult, with many stigmas and hurdles. Over the years I have been blessed to follow the children and see their lives change with opportunities presented to them that otherwise they would likely never have experienced. Not only has this opportunity changed their lives, it has also changed ours.
Dawn MacArthur Turner MSc CO c
Custom Orthotics of London Inc.