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20th May 2016

Bringing prostheses to the people

Meet the Syrian students who dropped out of college to set up a mobile clinic that brings artificial limbs to war victims.

Amjad Hajj Khamis and his colleague, Abdalrahim Khlouf, have made and fitted around 5,000 prosthetic limbs to victims of the conflict in Syria.

Just four years ago, their lives were completed different. Khamis, now aged 24, was studying French literature at the University of Homs. Khlouf, now 25, was training to be a school teacher.

They were settling into student life when war broke out and changed everything. Just four months into their courses, they watched in horror as their country descended into a war zone.

They quit college and started working in a makeshift field hospital where they learned all they needed to know about artificial limbs: how to measure patients, how to make arms and legs, and how to fit them.

Rewarding work

Today, they work as technicians in a mobile clinic they launched last year to improve access to healthcare in Syria where conflict has claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people – and wounded countless more.

In their unassuming white truck, Khamis and Khlouf are helping victims to walk again. Most are between 15 and 45 but the clinic must also cater to children and older people who have lost limbs. It’s a harrowing but rewarding job.

“The feeling can’t be described when you put the new prosthesis on a patient, especially kids,” says Khamis. “They love to move and play so it’s a wonderful feeling to help a child to walk again.”

The number of amputees is far greater than the health services can cater for and many victims are in hard-to-reach areas. The students-turned-technicians must bring prostheses to the patients.

The mobile clinic can enter areas where patients find it hard to leave – even though it can be risky, bombing being a frequent hazard.

Replacement foot

A nine-year-old girl who had lost her foot when she stepped on a landmine is among those to have benefited from the mobile amputee clinic. She told the Reuters news agency of her joy at being able to walk again.

“I woke up at the hospital and didn’t find my foot, it must have proceeded me to heaven,” says Salma. “In the beginning I was depressed, but when my dad told me I was going to get a prosthesis and walk again, I was very happy.”

Another victim – 14-year-old Qusay – lost a foot and an arm when he found a landmine while herding sheep with his twin brother, Adi. Qusay lost his mobility and his brother who died in the blast.

His life has been altered beyond recognition but a new prosthetic limb promises to restore a degree of independence. “I always go out to play or herd the sheep,” he says. “I don’t like sitting at home.”

In the meantime, Khamis and Khlouf keep their rolling clinic on the road. Alas, they seem sure to find new patients in need wherever they go.