When Vijay Naik
was nine years old, he
spent 45 days with his
left leg in a plaster.And when doctors assessed his
compound fracture and said that it could lead to a stumped foot, the boy's father was reduced to tears.The fear, fortunately, proved just that and Vijay
has been on his
feet ever since.
The incident, however, set Vijay
on a career in prosthetics and orthotics engineering.Now, as the director of the P. R. Vadhar Naik Artificial Limb Centre
in Bhavnagar, in Gujarat, he
has made it his
life's mission to provide succour to the disabled."After that brush with physical disability, I wanted to help people face it!"
Yet no one expected Vijay
, who trained in limb rehabilitation, to settle down in a remote corner of the Gulf of Khambat in Gujarat.He had just spent five years at the Kessler Institute in New Jersey, on a fellowship in rehabilitation.
"But I wanted to work for my countrymen," says Vijay
, 46.So in 1992, he came to Bhavnagar with his wife Neha and son Neil, to hunt for a job. Vijay
first challenge with Mansoor, a diamond-cutter who needed a wooden prosthesis, but one that would enable him to work in a sitting position.The 8 kg conventional foot was cumbersome and restricted his
movement.This set Vijay thinking on developing a better, cheaper model. He
came up with the 'Prabha foot', which enables the disabled to sit cross-legged while working or attending social and religious functions."The Prabha foot has an automatic locking device, is lightweight and easy to maintain.It can be fitted in an hour and requires less than a week's training.The cost is about Rs 4,200 while a conventional foot costs Rs 1 to 2 lakh," says Vijay Naik
who has also developed a prosthesis for children that "you keep adjusting as the child grows".
Getting a grip on life again: A patient (left) fitted with a prosthesis; Vijay Naik
(above right) displays his
'Prabha foot' Every aspect of Indian rural living was considered while designing the Prabha foot in a cosmetically acceptable form.Vijay
believes that the Prabha foot, if produced on a mass scale, has the potential to be exported to countries in Asia and Africa.It is now being manufactured in cottage industries in and around Bhavnagar
The institute has also developed a myo-electronic hand, popularly called the 'miracle hand'."The limb functions like a normal hand with the help of an electronic network which replaces the nerves for passing messages to the brain," explains Vijay
.This technology exists in the US and costs between $16,000 to 20,000.The Bhavnagar
institute plans to produce it for $400.
Visitors from Afghanistan, Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone have shown interest in the institute and its work.When Leonard Mark, an attorney for social issues with the Temple of Understanding in the US, came to Bhavnagar
to visit the landmine victims in Africa."Through their organisation, I got linked up with the United Nations and visited Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Zaire and Ethiopia, to see how best landmine victims can be rehabilitated at minimum cost and time," says Vijay
.When a breadwinner of a poor family loses one or more of his
limbs in a landmine explosion, he
becomes a burden on his
family and society.All that is needed to help the person get back on his
feet is a simple prosthesis or orthosis at affordable prices."
"In India, it is common to see men, women and children with one or both limbs amputated or deformed.The causes could be trauma, vascular diseases and congenital problems," explains Vijay
.Here, the challenge is in assisting women with disability, creating programmes for leprosy patients and those with mental retardation, and the development of community-based rehabilitation facilities."
The institute, which has trained 60 technicians, plans to start an international college of prosthetics and orthetics in Bhavnagar
.It will provide training to aid workers and students from rural India and developing countries."My plan is to introduce specialised courses and enable research activity up to the Ph.D level," says Vijay
.The institute will have a full-fledged manufacturing unit for production of low-cost technologies for the disabled.
As a member of the Rehabilitation Council of India
conducts training programmes across the country."For the rural disabled, accessibility to the districts is difficult, so training local people as technicians is important," says Vijay
, adding, "the disabled need long-term treatment including follow-up visits and peer support.Acceptability in family and society is one of the major problems faced by them."
Vijay's contribution in the field of research and development was recently recognised by the Gujarat Council on Science and Technology
, which honoured him with the prestigious Dr Vikram Sarabhai Award.He
has also been busy with the people who survived the January 26 earthquake.
The bank employee was back to work within 42 days thanks to an artificial hand developed by Vijay
.Who can say it's not a miracle?.
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