CHENNAI: The sounds of metal being hammered, the smell of Plaster of Paris (PoP), and the many slithers of rubber scattered across the floor welcomes you when you enter the Mukti MS Dadha Foundation’s factory in Meenambakkam. The factory, attached to the office, is where they produce prosthetic legs for amputees and people affected by polio. These are given for free of cost to all those in need and has been certified by the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics in Denmark.
For 42-year-old Ramesh K, a TV technician, the Meenambakkam office is a place he visits often to get the caliper for his right leg, which was affected by polio when he was born. “The government-issued calipers were heavy and made walking difficult. The ones that they give me here are weightless and don’t hinder my movement,” he said. The calipers are made using a sawed-off PVC pipe across the thigh and a polythene cast from below the knee to the foot. The leg has special iron fixings at the knee to mimic it’s functions and help patients sit comfortably.
“We have different moulds for different sizes for children and adults. We see which fits best and use it to shape the polythene cast. It gives them flexibility and more ankle movement, and they have to wear shoes so that the bottom does not wear off,” said Dilli Babu, an orthopaedics and prosthetics technician, who has been working with the Mukti Foundation for 32 years, which was started in 1986. These calipers last for six to ten months, as long as the patients wear shoes with them.
On the other side is the orthopaedics wing, where technicians make prosthetic limbs. A first-time patient sits quietly as technicians measure his stump and the other leg with measuring tape used by tailors. The technicians then twist a large sheet into a cone, fitting the measurements. These are filled with PoP and left to harden. After that a technician carves the cone to form the shape of the leg, taking into account muscles in the thigh, curves at the calf, and the way a leg tapers to the end.
“We have an industrial oven that was gifted by the Rotary Club. We use it to melt the rubber sheets and then drape it over the mold. Once it hardens, we shave off the excess and then add the metal buckles for the knee. It takes us about half a day to make one prosthetic leg,” said Tulasi Das, an orthopaedic and prosthetic technician. The team of foot technicians are also patients from the foundation, or persons with disability (mental and physical), which lines with the foundation’s goal for rehabilitating and providing such persons with proper homes and jobs.
To help patients, there are walking aids and steps for them to get used to the new prosthetic, which usually takes a few days. What’s most important, said Dadha, is for them to realise that they do not have to rely on anyone to walk anymore, and could be independent now.
In the factory, the waiting room is filled with patients waiting patiently for either a new prosthetic or to fix their old ones. The foundation makes both polio calipers and prosthetic limbs, and thus the waiting room was full by noon. The technicians joke around with the patients as they wait, who retort jovially.
As real as possible
The feet are made using a wooden base with the shape of a foot carved out of rubber. The foot is draped with a piece of flesh-coloured rubber, and the nails are painted for the women. We’ve also put toe-rings and anklets for women who want it. The point is to make the leg as realistic as possible,” said Das.