Salem Radio Network News Sunday, December 10, 2023

Health

In Bolivia, amputees strap on hyperrealistic prosthetic limbs

(This Sept. 21 story has been corrected to fix the surname of the engineer in paragraphs 6 and 8)

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Six years ago, Richard Vargas lost his hands in a dynamite explosion – a common occurrence in Bolivia, where the explosive is so prevalent a senator once suggested declaring it a national heritage.

When he woke up two weeks later in hospital, Vargas began facing the same difficulties as many other amputees – he lost his job as a metal worker, struggled with meeting the bills and faced social discrimination.

Now, he wears two hyperrealistic prosthetic hands which allow him to walk around unnoticed, write, eat using cutlery and do much more.

“I feel like a normal person,” he said.

In Bolivia, prosthetic limbs are largely imported from Europe or North America, where they are designed to replicate white skin and cost thousands of dollars, the equivalent of more than six years of minimum wage in the South American country.

This prompted Bolivian electro-mechanical engineer Antonio Riveros to found Creotec, a prosthetics maker that caters mostly to low-income Bolivians with prices as low as $300.

In Creotec’s workshop, artists and silicon technicians carefully mould the artificial limbs, designing them to fit the patient’s age and skin tone as closely as possible – adding in wrinkles, nail pigmentation and even tiny hairs.

“Many people with disabilities and amputations feel isolated, they don’t leave a house, many drop out of their studies and lose their jobs,” said Riveros, saying realistic prosthetics go beyond physical support.

“Three in 10 of them have suicidal thoughts and most are depressed. We realized the problem was more psychological than physical.”

Vargas’s Creotec-made prosthetics are realistic enough to pass for his original hands. He got his old position back in an aluminum workshop and also carves tombstones as a second job.

“Everyone used to look at me, they saw I didn’t have my hands and that I always needed to ask people for favors,” said Vargas. “Now I can do my own things and walk around normally, I can put on a jacket and no one notices.”

(Reporting by Monica Machicao, Santiago Limachi and Claudia Morales; Writing by Sarah Morland; editing by Timothy Gardner)

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