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(L to R): Hasnain and Tanvi / © A.J. Warco - ALTSO

A Limb to Stand On: Rockin’ Out for Mobility

Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.P.H., M.Ed. • Tue, May 30th, 2017

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Look down for a moment. See your legs? How much is one of those worth? You would probably pay quite a bit to keep those limbs. Surely more than $250.

$250…that is the average cost of providing a prosthetic limb to a child in the developing world.

A stellar non-profit organization, called A Leg to Stand On (ALTSO), is doing that every day in 10 countries around the globe. And they don’t just hand out a prosthesis and leave…they treat these children all the way, until they reach the age of 18.

The genesis of this New York-based organization was a hedge fund manager who was down on his luck—or so he thought.

Gabriella Mueller, executive director of ALTSO, tells OTW, “Back in the late 1990’s C. Meade Welles, our co-founder, chairman, and treasurer, was a hedge fund manager who set off on a trip to Southeast Asia to seek investments in his new fund. Personally, it was a bad time for him as he was going through the breakup of a relationship. While sitting at an outdoor café in Indonesia—and feeling sorry for himself—Meade caught sight of three boys, two of whom were pulling the third boy on the lid of a garbage can. The boy being transported had his knee inverted and the lower half of the limb was at a 90-degree angle. Meade saw that the boy’s limb was bloodied, as were his knuckles, signs that he had been struggling to ambulate on the limb.”

It was in that moment that the vision for ALTSO emerged. Mueller notes, “Meade was deeply saddened, and struck by the importance of mobility and the role that it plays in life, from self care to education, employment, and general self sufficiency. Later in his hotel room he thought, ‘I could have put about $1,000 on a credit card and gotten that child corrective surgery.’”

Nia / Source: © A.J. Warco - ALTSO

The ideas percolated for roughly two years, at which point Meade Welles connected with Danesh Patel, M.D., a Harvard-trained orthopedic surgeon who is now Chief of Arthroscopic Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The initial program launched in Ahmedabad, India in 2002,” says Mueller. “As with all of our programs, the Ahmedabad project is a partnership with an existing local institution—in this case, a clinic. We search for hospitals and clinics that have a proven track record of excellence in pediatric orthopedic care, and have the capacity to maximize the number of kids, but lack money or capacity-building skills.”

As of 2017 ALTSO operates 10 programs in nine countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Somaliland, and Colombia. Mueller emphasizes, “A critical part of our strategy is to provide continual assistance and sustainable care. If we first fit a patient with a prosthetic at the age of three, it will only be six months before the child outgrows the device. So, we must account for the number of adjustments that each child will require. On average, the majority of children need two adjustments per year until they reach 18.”

“We are the one and only charity focusing on providing mobility for those under the age of 18 that has a goal of helping to lift them out of poverty,” states Mueller.

“We don’t just provide a device so that these kids can kick a ball around. The typical ALTSO patient lives in a home where the combined income is $3.50 per day on the low end and $10/day on the high end. They usually have no access to public transportation—and if they did it would be a significant part of their budget. And they can’t walk or bike to school if they are suffering with an untreated or painful limb disability.”

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that these children have the physical capability to access education, eventually form their own families, and be an important part of their communities. The community aspect is key, and contributes to sustainability—that is why we always purchase local resources if they are available.”

Since 2003, this unique organization has performed miracles in the lives of over 15,000 children by providing them with prosthetic limbs, orthotic devices, mobility aids, corrective surgery and rehabilitation. “A full 100% of our program funds are used to provide free orthopedic care and training programs to benefit ‘our’ children,” says Mueller. “And we do our utmost to ensure a streamlined process. Each month our program partners submit Patient Intake Forms (PIFs) that are seamlessly integrated in real time via mobile and desktop platforms.”

(L to R): Soney and Refan / Source: © A.J. Warco - ALTSO

As these children approach 18 their options for a family are vastly improved because of ALTSO. “In many countries, marrying someone who is disabled is frowned upon. With our help, however, people can have the option of a full family life, accompanied by notable improvements in self-esteem.”

As for the future, Mueller notes, “We are looking at expanding into other countries, but we do so cautiously as our core mission is to be able to sustain the relationships with ‘our’ kids for multiple years.”

And to do that—and enroll more children in the programs—they need money.

Fortunately, they have found a fun, effective way to go about fundraising. “We have a small concert called #RockForALTSO where musicians in both New York and Chicago take to the stage to raise funds for the cause. Our next such event is June 7 at The Cutting Room in Manhattan. Headlining will be Warriors From Mars, Mo’ Beta Blues Band, and the ALTSO All Stars. These smaller events typically raise $5,000 to $10,000, which then enables us to sign up many more children for our services.”

“Then there is our mega-event, Rocktoberfest. This year’s New York concert will take place on September 26, 2017, while in Chicago the festivities will happen on October 5. There are five stages with bands comprised of individuals working in the financial services industry. In order to be eligible to play, someone must make a significant contribution to ALTSO. We actually have a fundraising competition that is already underway and will continue until the event. The band that raises the most money gets to perform in the time slot of their choice. That night—in Times Square—we expect to draw 1,400 people!”

Always looking for more ways to assist “their” kids, the ALTSO folks are branching out into the device arena. Mueller says, “We have a new modular limb kit that is being piloted at all our sites. This is a very high quality device that will make the process of adjusting the limbs over time much easier.”

Aside from the events, ALTSO has a wish list on its website. And, says Mueller, they are always seeking product donations. “We purchase products for our program partners; to the extent that we could get additional donations, then we could perhaps double the number of children we help. Some of what we need include carbon braided sleeves and prosthetic silicone socket liners. These are important for the children’s hygiene, but they are really expensive.”

So look down again at those legs of yours. And then look at your calendar—and the ALTSO website. See how you can give kids a leg to stand on.

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