He can now peel fruit, play video games and wave – with his left hand as well as his right. Most people take these things for granted but for 15-year-old Carl Meiring, being able to do this is nothing short of miraculous.
The Grade 10 learner was born without the lower part of his left forearm and with his family unable to afford a prosthetic, life has been a constant struggle.
But when Pretoria orthotist Riaan van der Westhuizen, who specialises in prosthetic limbs, heard about Carl’s plight he decided something needed to be done to help the boy.
With the help of his team, he created a prosthetic arm that works with a harness system Carl can control with his shoulder muscles. The arm, which even features a custom coating to ensure it matches the teen’s skin tone, was made and fitted within two weeks – completely free of charge.
And it’s given Carl a new lease of life.
“I’m excited to put it on and use it in my everyday life now,” he tells us. “I have been practising picking up day-to-day items over and over again and to see how well it works.”
Carl was born with Poland syndrome, a rare disorder that results in underdeveloped muscles on one side of the body. This causes problems with the chest and shoulders and in Carl’s case, his left lower arm and hand.
“When he was born and didn’t have his left hand it was a big shock for everybody,” his mother, Carmen Moodley (38), says. Before the birth she’d had a 3D sonar scan and had been assured that everything was fine.
For Carl it hasn’t been easy growing up with the disorder. He felt embarrassed about the missing limb and would wear a blazer – even when it was sweltering hot – to hide his condition.
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When he was younger, he underwent surgery to reshape his arm so he could have a prosthesis but his family couldn’t afford the limb. He and his mom will always be grateful to Dr Van der Westhuizen, who decided to step in last month after hearing about the teen via a colleague.
“I received a WhatsApp from Elize Hart, who works at the Moot Hospital [in Pretoria]. She gave me the number of Carl's grandma. I phoned her and asked if it would be possible to see Carl.”
He says it was clear the boy needed a break.
“I have children myself and I could see Carl needed someone to help him in life,” Van der Westhuizen says.
He explains that the prosthetic arm, which is fitted with a hook rather than an artificial hand, will allow Carl more flexibility.
“Because the size and thickness of artificial hands, they sometimes block the user’s view of what they are trying to pick up.”
Carl’s prosthesis is made of metal which makes it durable and secure, especially when he’s working in the kitchen.
Although he’s still getting used to using the prosthetic, Carl can’t believe what a profound effect it’s already having on his day-to-day existence.
“Getting this arm has been the best thing that happened to me,” he says. “It’s like the best early birthday present.”