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A step forward: Utahns to deliver prosthetics overseas

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Life for Hope Bevilhymer has always been about difficult choices. Born with two club feet, she chose as a young girl to endure 30 surgeries to re-form her feet.

Although her left foot was successfully reshaped, through the course of her 26 years, Bevilhymer said she endured constant pain from her right foot as scar tissue and arthritis set in. Her body eventually built up a tolerance to pain killers.

In June 2002, the pain became beyond unbearable. "I did not want to go through one more moment of pain," she said. She made the decision to have her right foot amputated below the knee.

"I thought my world was over," Bevilhymer recalled.

But amputation was not going to get in this ambitious young woman's way. Bevilhymer said she skipped past physical therapy and taught herself to walk using a prosthetic. By June of 2003, Bevilhymer joined Utah's only sledge hockey team, she bungee-jumps, snowboards and rollerblades.

Last July, however, Bevilhymer's life was put into perspective. While watching television, she encountered a news piece about children and adults in war-torn countries who have lost limbs to land mines, disease or other causes. "I found out that countless people are losing limbs," she said. "I realized my life is not so bad. I had a choice, these people didn't have a choice. . . . I can't imagine what these people go through."

Once again, Bevilhymer decided to make a choice and try to do something to help.

Along with her brother and a friend, the three young adults thrust themselves in the often confusing world of nonprofit organizations, creating the Limbs of Hope Foundation. Having no experience between them at fund-raising, each had to learn the ropes.

Micah Done, a college student, said his career plans took a U-turn when he started working at a local care center for the disabled. He traded in his ambitions in computers for a degree in medical assistance. "When you work with people who have disabilities it changes you," he said, adding that helping to make a positive change in the lives of amputees in other parts of the world is part of that.

For Jared Bevilhymer, the Limbs of Hope Foundation is more than helping his sister. "When I help people, I love seeing the smile," he said.

The three came up with the idea of taking used prosthetic limbs and shipping them to countries where amputees can go through a lifetime without the help of a prosthetic. Often expensive, prosthetics are custom-fit to the person's limb, but components can be used to make new ones.

Regulations and laws in the United States often discourage the re-use of prosthetic limbs.

Matt Bracken, owner of Jenco prosthetics in Midvale, said Medicare will often not pay for re-used limbs, and new limbs are encouraged mostly due to liability issues. "But in a Third World country, it's the difference of being able to walk," Bracken said.

For several years, Bracken and local physicians have conducted charity trips to Haiti to donate used medical equipment, including prosthetics, and train medical students there on how to use the equipment.

Bracken lauded Bevilhymer's budding group for its efforts. "There's a tremendous need out there," he said. "I fitted a kid who was born without a leg. I was fitting him for his first prosthetic, and he was 18."

With cheaper prosthetics costing around $200, that calculates to the annual income for most in Third World countries.

So far Hope Bevilhymer, her brother, Jared, and Done hold their meetings in the living room of the Bevilhymer family home in West Jordan. The group has had to obtain a business license from the city, as well as register as a nonprofit organization with the Internal Revenue Service. Hours of research have been done on the need for prosthetics, as well as networking for donated used limbs.

But unlike most donated items, limbs have a strong emotional component for some. "We had a neighbor who lost her husband to diabetes and had her husband's $2,000 leg," Hope Bevilhymer said, adding it was a tearful moment when her neighbor donated one of the last reminders of her husband to help someone else in a far-off place.

Jared Bevilhymer said since word of mouth has spread, donated limbs have been coming in. Done, whose mother works at Cottonwood Hospital, has yielded yet more donations.

The group hopes to make its first trip to Cambodia in September, where years of warfare have resulted in a huge number of amputees. "We have got contacts out of Cambodia. We're going to meet them and deliver the prosthetics personally, because prosthetics there are a black market commodity," Hope Bevilhymer said.

"We've honestly learned, step by step," she said. But then again, that has always been the way Hope said she has taken life.

Limbs of Hope Foundation

Phone: 801-548-0553

E-mail: limbsofhope@yahoo.com

E-MAIL: gfattah@desnews.com