After the outpouring of support from friends and strangers that followed Hope Bevilhymer's foot amputation in June 2002, the West Jordan woman decided "it was my turn to give back."
Television coverage of the plight of people living in refugee camps worldwide grabbed her attention, and she decided that was where her help was needed. So she began doing research and discovered there was a personal connection she could bring to her voluntarism.
Turns out, war and disease in many of the world's toughest regions have left in their wake huge numbers of amputees.
This morning, Bevilhymer and two other members of the Utah group Limbs of Hope will board a plane to Cambodia, where they will spend two weeks delivering used prosthetic limbs to victims of war crimes and land mines left over from the Vietnam War. They will also spend a weekend teaching orphans to play soccer and baseball.
"I've always known for myself that I've always wanted to help because I've had so many surgeries and things go on through my life where people have taken care of me," Bevilhymer said. "I knew it was my turn to give back."
The idea for Limbs of Hope started when Bevilhymer, who at age 26 decided to have her right foot amputated after 30 surgeries on the club feet she was born with, began receiving used prosthetics from people who thought she could use them. However, product-liability laws in the United States prohibit reuse of prosthetic limbs.
"I put two and two together: We're throwing away all these prosthetics, but there are people in the world who can use them," she said.
Bevilhymer, 25-year-old Scott Brown and 19-year-old Micah Done — three members of the 12-member Limbs of Hope team — are headed to Cambodia because Bevilhymer's research opened her eyes to a need she fears too few people are aware of.
"It's just amazing to me how unaware I was of what was going on in the world," she said. "I've heard of Iraq and Afghanistan and stuff . . . but I didn't know this was happening throughout the world. I hope more people become aware."
The group is working with organizations already established in Cambodia. One reason Cambodia became a viable option for the group's first major trip is that volunteers there have hooked up with a prosthetic specialist who can customize the used limbs to fit the individual amputees.
But in addition to delivering limbs and teaching orphans — some amputees, some not — new ways of having fun, Bevilhymer hopes the trip will help her develop some contacts and lay the groundwork for future help in Cambodia.
"I don't want to be like Santa Claus and just show up once," she said. "This is us establishing contact with these guys and finding out what they need."
And while Bevilhymer said the group plans to return to Cambodia in the future and continue to provide support there, Limbs of Hope is by no means focused just on one part of the world. Bevilhymer said she hopes the group can take a similar trip to Romania next year.
Bevilhymer, Done and Brown are all using their two weeks' paid vacation from work for the trip. They paid for their flights with donated money but are paying for everything else — from food to hotels to transportation — out of their own pockets.
Bevilhymer said the trip has been a year in the making — necessary arrangements from vaccinations to passports have taken a lot of time and manpower.
The group relies on donations and volunteers, and contributions of prosthetics or money can be made at the group's Web site (www.limbsofhope.org) or by telephone, 548-0553. The Web site also offers a form for volunteer signup.
The group holds fund-raisers throughout the year, including a volleyball tournament planned for February and a softball tournament in April. Information on those events will be available online as plans are solidified, Bevilhymer said.