Tuesday, February 12, 2008


One of the students in my grade 11 class is missing half of his leg.

From the knee down on the left side, his pant leg hangs loosely. Am not sure exactly how old he is, although I would guess it to be somewhere around 17 or 18. I asked Mrs. M., an absolute gem of a teacher, and she said that a couple of years ago he was diagnosed with bone cancer and they were forced to amputate his leg. Following this he took a year off because he was so depressed at what had been taken from him and was very reluctant to return to school for fear of what the students would think of him. Absolutely heartbreaking. He is a gorgeous young man, tall with kind eyes, and always sits quietly at the back of the classroom. Am pretty sure this is his second time doing Grade 11, although this doesn’t necessarily correspond to his leg. There are several students in my Grade 11 class who are repeating the year..

Because of this challenge, he is forever on crutches. While very mobile on them, it is obviously very limiting. Apparently before his surgery he was a star soccer player. Now he watches from the sidelines. Quietly.

I asked P about the option of prosthesis, about whether this was something that he could perhaps think about, or if because of his financial situation if it was something that would be completely unfeasible. The short answer was that no, this was not an option for him. The state of public health care in the townships is such that just to see a doctor can sometimes take the whole day, let alone something as high level as a prosthetic leg.

Which got me thinking…

At home, it is not uncommon to see someone with a prosthetic limb, and not once have I thought about what was involved in getting that limb to them. For all its faults, we are indeed fortunate in Ontario to have the Health Care system that we do. If you lose a limb, it will be replaced for you, by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.. Follow up care and maintenance is also covered. We do not think about this because we pay taxes and it is part of the package.

But what does it actually cost? And what is the cost here in South Africa?

I have decided that I will look into this. Find out what the actual cost of such a thing would be. And obviously not just the limb itself, but the physio, the maintenance, even the social and emotional support that I would imagine comes with such a change in ones life. The dollar amount. How much?

If the amount is not exorbitant (and at this stage I have no idea how much it might be…it could be $5000, $50,000, or even $500,000), I would like to find out how feasible it would be to get that amount raised. Either by individuals, corporations…perhaps there is even a hospital here in Cape Town that would like to donate it. Who knows. Of course it is all very preliminary and pie in the sky but you don’t know unless you try, right?

If this is able to happen, I would have to speak with P and Mrs. M to find out their thoughts on it. One must tread a fine balance in such an area since this student is one of hundreds, and while they are not all missing legs, most can use financial assistance in one way or the other.

There is also of course the possibility that he has decided that he doesn’t want a prosthesis. This could very well be the case for any number of reasons.

But what if it isin’t? And what if the money can be raised? And what if P and Mrs. M agree that it’s a good move? Imagine? We’re talking big here. Big big as in change someone’s life forever big.

I wonder.

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