A joint effort

When people work together they can accomplish great things-as members of the Thai Industrialist Development Forum prove.They pooled good will, expertise, cash and spare parts to develop an artificial leg with a bending knee joint.The prosthetics are being given free to cash-strapped amputees

Chompoo Trakullertsathien

It looks like a jumble of discarded junk-a hodgepodge of screws, wire, stainless steel, aluminium, springs, and polyurethane. But once it's all fitted together in the right way, the items are transformed into artificial legs that can help hundreds of amputees walk again.

Moreover, these artificial limbs allow disabled people to bend their knee when they walk, sit cross-legged, and even kneel down.

Traditionally, artificial legs assembled in Thailand were designed for lower leg amputations-that is, below the knee. This style of prosthetic was not appropriate for those whose leg was amputated above the knee as the joint did not bend and walking naturally was impossible. But the knee of these new-style limbs does move-and that makes all the difference.

These prosthetics were the brainchild of the Thai Industrialist Development Forum (TIDF). Led by Woothiwong Toatong, 103 like-minded industrialists grouped together to support a project making artificial legs for hard-up amputees. They were spurred into action after seeing amputees struggling along on bamboo sticks.

Mr Woothiwong said: "We, the inventors, had the tools and some of the know-how. Many of these amputees served our country as teachers, soldiers, and monks. When they are handicapped, the government turns its back on them, so we should do whatever we can to help. Making artificial legs is one way to help."Last year, Mr Woothiwong and his team set about trying to produce cheap, but sturdy artificial legs.

"We had no idea how to make them. We started looking at what we had in our factories. Those days were filled with challenging experiments, as we tried to match different things together. Initially, we failed to come up with anything," Mr Woothiwong said.

To learn the basics of making artificial legs, he flew to Japan and visited a factory producing artificial legs. He also approached two doctors at Phra Mongkut Hospital-Dr Chusilpa Kunathai and Dr Saksom Kukietinan-and asked them for information and advice. "As beginners, it all seemed so difficult. But I believed we could achieve our goal if we tried our best," said Mr Woothiwong.

Then Mr Woothiwong's friend, Lerpong Ngarmpojjana, came up with what the team thought was a workable design. They experimented with polyurethane and it seemed to work.

Polyurethane is light, so amputees can walk more easily than with the heavier conventional prosthetics.

Tanin Ploymanee, a 27-year-old amputee, said: "It's difficult walking if the leg is heavy. It's exhausting. It's much easier with the Polyurethane ones."After experimenting with the design, Mr Woothiwong w