Ezine Archives

As featured in Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul:

Stories to Inspire Caregivers in the Home, the Community and the World

Project First Step

Dale on sock feet teaching his new patient to take his first steps with a new leg and new sneakers.

The war here in Afghanistan has created many amputees, will you come to Kabul and help us?”

The answer was yes. Our team of four clinical specialists at Hanger Prosthetics and Orthopedics set off to spend ten days in Kabul , Afghanistan to treat as many amputees as possible. Our goal was to fit forty patients, one limb per day for each practitioner on the team.

We arrived to see the devastation of years of war that had not only scarred the people, but also deeply scarred the city of Kabul itself. We literally did not see a single building that was not ravaged or damaged by missiles, mortars or bullets. What was not damaged however was the spirit of the Afghan people. Their collective will to greet each day with a positive approach, a smile, and a wave to our group of foreign visitors was refreshing and a powerful reminder that attitude is not what happens, but rather how we react to what happens.

The first few days our clinic was overwhelmed by military personel missing legs and arms--some actually missing two or three limbs.  Each soldier was excited and anxious to receive a new artificial limb, to stand tall once again as an active participant in the community. 

After the third day, during a break in our hectic schedule, I noticed a young boy, I guessed to be about twelve, sitting on a curb across the street with a pair of crutches by his side. I could clearly see that one of his legs was amputated above what was once his knee. I crossed the street and with the aid of an interpreter talked to the boy.  He told me he had stepped on a land mine on the way home from school two years before.  The blast killed his best friend and amputated his leg. He had been walking with the aid of crutches ever since.  He heard about the clinic to get a new leg and had been waiting for two days to visit us. “But the rules are, I cannot enter the clinic for treatment until all the men have been treated first.”

I returned back to the clinic and convened an impromptu meeting with the team.  We discussed the situation, then asked for a meeting with our hosts. “Tomorrow we  will be accepting only women and children amputees for the clinic.” 

This announcement was not well received. “We are soldiers! And we were here first! We demand that you treat us before the women and children!”

Our team stood firm to our commitment to help the people of Afghanistan , and to us that meant treating men, woman and children equally.   “We will not treat any more soldiers unless we treated an equal number of women and children,” we said with false bravado.

We left the clinic that evening, unsure of what to expect the next morning. To our surprise and amazement, as we approached the clinic the next day there were over twenty-five women and children, all missing either a leg or an arm, sitting outside the entrance, waiting for us to arrive. 

And smiling in the front of the line was the young boy I saw sitting on the curb the day before.

A few days later it came time for him to stand and walk on his newly completed custom-made artificial limb. As I fitted the new leg, I realized that he did not have two shoes. The interpreter repeated the boy’s explanation. “When I lost my leg, I lost my shoe.”

Without hesitation, I untied my sneaker, pulled it off my foot, and placed it on his prosthetic one. He looked up at me, smiling in disbelief—seemingly as excited about the new sneakers as he was the new leg!

I stood beside him in stocking feet and taught him how to walk again. The power of his spirit, his warmth and genuine gratitude overwhelmed me. Despite the devastation to his country and his fragile body, he stood tall and walked with pride on two feet in new sneakers. The interpreter translated, “Thank the people of America for my leg and new shoes. Tell them I will pray for them to have a good and long life.”

Dale Berry, Project First Step

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