Scotland has a rich and exciting history with prosthetic legs, most notably during the first world war when soldiers with missing limbs were sent back from the front line to be treated at Erskine Hospital in Glasgow. Here prosthetic legs weren’t just fitted, but manufactured onsite from leather, willow and other types of lightweight materials that were available at the time. Compared to modern limbs these devices were very basic in their design but they still offered these soldiers a means to be mobile again and, in a lot of cases, to get back to work.
Since then prosthetics have evolved; they have become modular in their design so that if a part wears out or needs replacing, it can simply be switched over rather than replacing the entire device. With this in mind, today’s manufacturers have agreed to build universally fitting components so a foot made from one manufacturer can fit onto another manufacturer’s adapter, onto another pylon, onto a knee and so on.
In recent years the Scottish tech firm ‘Touch Bionic’ which became a world leader in robotic upper limb prosthetics was sold to the Icelandic firm Ossur.
When an amputee outgrows a prosthetic leg the old one is often thrown away and the same happens when an amputee passes away. It’s estimated that as many as 500 legs a year are destined to landfill in Scotland but the town of Stonehaven, just south of Aberdeen, is putting itself on the historical timeline by recycling hundreds of used and unwanted prosthetic legs from Scottish amputees. The Stonehaven Rotary Club has teamed up with their local Mens Shed to collect and dismantle these unwanted prosthetic legs, diverting them from landfill and getting amputees thousands of miles away walking again.
The unique way Stonehaven Rotary Club and Mens Shed work together is simple but highly effective. Members from the Rotary Club take it in turns to collect returned prosthetic legs from limb fitting centres in Scotland and take them to a workshop in Stonehaven from where the Men’s Shed operate. From there the Shedders use alum keys and ratchets to dismantle the limbs into their serviceable components.
The components are then sent down to Legs4Africa in Bristol where they are serviced and shipped to vetted limb fitting centres in Africa. These centres have the expertise and tools to build new legs but often lack the raw materials and components, and this is where these unique relationships between Rotary Clubs and Mens Sheds are making a huge impact on another continent.
So far Legs4Africa with its partners have recycled over 6,000 legs, all of which have gone on to build new legs or repair old ones in some of the poorest communities in Africa.
Meet Timothy, 30 from Western Uganda
In 2016 Timothy was studying to be a prosthetic and orthotic technologist when he was involved in a serious car accident which left him with severe burns and resulted in the loss of his left leg.
Timothy acquired a prosthesis which he prefers to crutches because he says it makes him feel more confident particularly as, with full use of both hands and optimum mobility on the job, he has been able to resume his training as a technologist. He is due to complete his qualification this year. From a professional perspective, Timothy believes that being an amputee himself will help him to deliver a higher level of service as he not only has the technical skills but he has personal experience of what it means to be an amputee.