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Giving hope: Amputee donates limbs — and new lives — to Third World poor

SHARE Giving hope: Amputee donates limbs — and new lives — to Third World poor

SOUTH JORDAN — Since 2002, Hope Bevilhymer has lived as an amputee. And she has made it her mission to help other amputees cope with the same issues she has struggled with since her operation.

Hope was born with bilateral club feet. By the time she was 25 she had had 29 surgeries to fix her foot and ease her suffering. She finally chose to have her right leg amputated from just below the knee to completely end the pain.

"I went through life depending on people to take care of me," she said recently. "Now it's my turn to give back."

A TV program she saw in 2003 inspired her to start her charity, Limbs of Hope. The foundation assists people in Third World countries who have had amputations.

"I was watching a show on land-mine victims and how they didn't have the funding for prosthetics," Hope said.

In the United States, the re-use of prosthetics is prohibited because of product liability laws and thousands go to waste, she said. Because of this, Hope has dedicated her foundation to finding and delivering prosthetics to those in need.

"You should see the look on her (Hope) face when she gets a prosthetic — she tells me 'this is like Christmas,' " said Hope's mother, Jamie Bevilhymer.

Bernadette Lowell, a recreational therapist and member of the board of directors for Limbs of Hope, has been friends with Hope for five years.

"I just thought it was a great opportunity," Bernadette said of her involvement with the charity. "It was a chance to improve quality of life."

The foundation has sent used prosthetics to Third World countries and Hope has taken two teams to Cambodia to personally deliver them. She said the first time she went to Cambodia, she wore pants the whole time.

"The amputees looked at me as just another American," she said. "When I went back, I made it a point to wear shorts to show them that I was an amputee."

She was accepted and connected with the amputees.

"Hope is willing to do anything for other people — she's a true friend," Bernadette said.

Bernadette has been affected by the experiences she has had with Limbs of Hope.

"It's just been fun to see people who have lost a limb receive a prosthetic," she said. "The impact you make on a life is amazing."

Currently, the organization is shipping prosthetics to seven different countries: Mexico, Romania, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Colombia and Pakistan.

"We're hoping to go to Romania or Rwanda," Bernadette said. "They're tentative (plans), but still hopes that we would like to make come true."

Hope plans to take a team to Cambodia for the third time in the fall.

She understands the pain amputees go through because she has been through it.

"My left foot was slightly turned in and my right was turned in and upside down — my toes touched the back of my calf," she said.

Her mother said as Hope was growing up she never complained even though she was in constant agony.

"The best way to describe the pain is if someone were to take a hammer and pound your thumb over and over," Hope said.

Bernadette was there when Hope resolved to amputate her leg.

"Everyone was telling her not to do it, but coming from (the perspective of) a recreational therapist, I knew she was going through a lot of pain," she said.

Bernadette was a support to Hope when she made the difficult choice.

"I think a lot of it was just being there for her — being a sounding board for the decisions she was going to have to make," Bernadette said.

Hope didn't fully understand what the repercussions would be from her decision, although she knew the amputation was necessary.

"When I first had it amputated I didn't know what to expect," Hope said. "I didn't take into consideration the little things like taking a shower or driving a car. Now I'm the most active I've been in my life."

"Hope is a very selfless person, always thinking of other people, always complimentary to others," Bernadette said. "Her service is so unconditional she doesn't want anything in return. She's just a great person to know — full of excitement and adventure."

The nation has recognized Hope for her achievements and generosity by naming her the 2005 winner of the Volvo for Life Award, "Greatest Hometown Hero."

"A friend nominated me, but I didn't think anything of it because there were 4,200 nominations," Hope said.

She won the Quality of Life Award, which entitled her to $50,000 to a charity of her choice. Being the Volvo for Life winner, she will receive a new Volvo every three years for the rest of her life, and her duty is to go back and judge the next competition.

E-mail: tdemasters@desnews.com