Artificial limb unit to bring real relief

2014-11-18 00:00

FROM matching the colour of an artificial limb to “implanting” tiny hairs to make them look more realistic, it’s all in a days work for Andile Ndletje.

He works as a technician at the Medical Orthotics and Prosthetics Unit launched at the Wentworth Hospital by the Durban University of Technology together with the Department of Health last week.

Artificial limbs and support equipment will be made at the unit, something that’s expected to slash waiting times for amputees in the province.

Based at a newly renovated facility at the hospital, it includes laboratories, teaching facilities and offices, and is the first of its kind in the province and a second for the country.

The unit aims to increase the number of registered medical orthotists and prosthetists in the country, currently 420 in total. It was established at a cost of R35 million.

Medical orthotics and prosthetics is the design and manufacturing of artificial limbs and surgical appliances such as splints, external braces and surgical shoes that support joints or body parts.

Dr Macala Moroka, who heads the department, said they work as a team in order to prepare a patient.

“After a patient loses their limbs, they are looked after by their surgeons, occupational therapists, psychologists and physiotherapists,” he said.

They would also be treating patients who had suffered from strokes and neurological injuries.

While their stumps are healing — which takes between three to six months — they have to be emotionally and physically prepared.

The process starts off with making a cast of the artificial limb. This is used to mould the artificial limb.

It can then take up to another six months before the artificial limb is ready. This is already an improvement on the minimum of a year that it usually takes.

Moroka said they had a colour spectrum which they use to match an artificial limb to a patient’s skin colour.

“We want the patient to feel as comfortable as possible. We will even go as far as putting hair on a limb in order to make them look as real as possible.”

He said they also had the facility to make motorised limbs, but this would only be provided in cases where it was considered an absolute necessity.

All appliances are supplied free of charge, unless patients have a medical aid.

• A four-year course in Medical Orthotics and Prosthetics will be offered by DUT’s Health Sciences Faculty, with bursaries being offered by the provincial Health Department.

The programme will annually see 30 bursaries awarded.

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