Low Cost Legs

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - 8:58am

Students develop low-cost prosthetic limbs using common PVC piping.

Brigham Young University students who began kicking around some ideas to help developing countries have come up with a rather ingenious invention.

The devices they're making are literally giving folks in these countries some "big steps" they've never been able to take before.

In a lab on campus, PVC pipes have become transformers, so to speak, converting from their conventional shape into prosthetics.

Students heat, cut and mold the plastic into devices that help amputees in developing countries walk again.

Compared to a more expensive and sophisticated carbon fiber prosthetic, the plastic limbs come together quickly and for less money.

"If you went to a standard clinic it would take between two to six weeks to manufacture a finished product. We can make these prosthetics in a day," says BYU student Douglas Wright.

In developing places like El Salvador, Guatemala or Tonga the PVC limbs are allowing once disabled folks to get back on their feet sooner than later, and instead of paying thousands of dollars, they pay only $25.

2ft Prosthetics, as the project is called, is catching on.

Four trained people in Tonga now staff an on-site fitting and manufacturing clinic.

"While we were there we were able to give away about fifteen legs," Wright says. "Those legs are in the process of being made, and we have a list of about 45 to 50 people who are ready for a prosthetic."

While an earlier model incorporated a cut plastic jug for a socket, the layered PVC creations now are stronger and more polished in design.

"These legs by no means are a fix-all. They will not last forever, but will serve nicely as an intermediate leg that will allow people to get back on their feet - off the streets," Wright says. "They can go back to work and provide for their families."

The BYU group has teamed up with the International Service Abroad Club at Utah Valley University to expand into even more countries.

Through donations and continued support, 2ft Prosthetics is getting lots of hugs and smiles, like the big grin that came from a little boy named Carlos who had lost both legs in an auto accident.

"It was interesting to see the little 11-year-old not only receive both feet, but also to get to choose to be about an inch taller," says UVU National Student Exchange's Julie Baker.

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