A world 20 metres square
Sitting in on the Physiotherapist and Prosthetists/Orthotists Training Workshop at Veterans International, I listened as the team members presented their case studies.
Falling below the poverty line, none of VI's clients enjoy the opportunities and resources available in the Western world, such as access to good healthcare. Those with disabilities often become recluses, barely venturing beyond their homes because no family member is available to move them or because in Cambodia, they face discrimination and stigma.
Children with disabilities are routinely heckled with names relating to their disability rather than being called by their given name, and some are never even given a family name, being hidden away and treated as if of lesser value than their siblings. Isolated and excluded, the struggle with the difficulties and challenges of their impairments is enveloped by a sense of worthlessness that increasingly traps people with disabilities, with few opportunities to escape.
But if the picture I paint seems bleak, meet Sarun, the physiotherapist at VI's Kien Khleang Physical Rehabilitation Center. Sarun presented a case study on the management of spastic cerebral palsy with surgery. Cerebral palsy affects 2 in 1000 children and can result in posture and movement problems depending on the limbs affected. Sokna, a 16 year-old boy, was born premature and had spent most of his life in a world 20 metres square, the distance he was able to crawl.
Upon recently learning of the Kien Khleang Center, his mother came to the center with the hope that Sokna would be able to walk. Upon assessment, Sarun and his team set Sokna up with a tricycle and splints to aid in the training therapy. They also referred him to the National Pediatric Hospital for surgery to reduce his severe spasticity. Post surgery, they worked on building up his leg muscles and decreasing his hip and knee flexion. Meanwhile, the splints were fitted to help control his abnormal joint positions. Over the course of 1.5 years, Sokna developed the strength to sit upright with his legs extended and finally was able to walk with a much decreased rate of motion in his legs. Can you imagine how rich his world became as the walls demarking those 20 metres came tumbling down?
Watching a video of Sokna's progress, I was struck by how these VI foot soldiers, literally and figuratively, with nothing near the resources available to Western clinicians were finding creative ways to confront Cambodia's disability challenges. They concluded by humbly thanking VI for the training opportunities that had enabled them to more fully understand cerebral palsy post-surgery. But truly, they are the ones to be thanked.