I Ketut Sudarmada knows how it feels to lose a leg and survive using an artificial one.
A traffic accident he had years ago inspired him to dedicate the rest of his life to making artificial legs that fit well and are comfortable, and to helping everyone he can.
Ketut was on his way from his campus in Denpasar to his home in Tabanan when he was hit by a truck and had to have his right leg amputated.
It was a difficult time for him and his wife, as they had just had a baby. He had to give up his studies at Udayana University and struggled to support his family.
He went to a prosthetic leg maker in Solo, Central Java. However, the leg he was given never felt right.
Driven by curiosity, he detached his prosthesis to check what was wrong with it.
“I couldn’t walk properly, so I tried to fix it. And that worked,” Ketut said when The Jakarta Post visited his workshop in the remote Sanda village, Pupuan district, Tabanan.
This motivated him to take an interest in anyone he met who could not walk properly on their prosthetic legs or sat desperately in their wheelchairs.
In 1989, he started making artificial legs with the limited materials and equipment he had.
But it was only in the year 2000 that Ketut, a teacher by training, left work and started to make artificial legs on a full-time basis. “It was difficult at the beginning. I didn’t have many resources at the time, but I always tried my best to help my patients.”
The 47-year-old man taught himself how to make prosthetic legs. He learns something new every time he makes a leg, and it is truly satisfying for him to see physically challenged people he has helped being able to walk again with the legs he has created.
Some of his patients already used artificial legs when they came to him to look for help because they were not able to walk properly.
“I simply learn from personal experience. I always try to find the reasons why my patients feel uncomfortable with the prosthetic legs they are using when they turn to me for help.”
“You can’t just make the same leg for everyone. Every patient requires specific treatment because they have different conditions,” he said, adding that he usually charged between Rp 5 million (US$552) and
Rp 8 million for one leg, and it took him a week to finish the work.
“For me, it’s like the synthetic leg has a ‘soul’. And I try my best to make it as compatible and well-suited to the person’s body as possible. That’s why I consider every detail in its manufacture.”
For years, he struggled to survive, but never gave up looking for support and trying to make people aware of and help physically challenged people.
“But nobody cared, not even the regent or the governor,” he said. Fortunately, some philanthropists from Jakarta helped him finance the construction of a small workshop/garage in front of his house three years ago. He also received cash assistance from several foreign donors.
His relentless efforts led him to receive a community research award from the research and technology ministry in 2008.
As well as making prosthetic legs in his house, Ketut provides rehabilitation programs for his patients.
After having the prosthesis attached, each patient undergoes treatment, doing exercises to enable them to walk comfortably on their new leg. It usually takes from three to seven days for them to be able to walk normally.
He always ensures that each patient gets a well-fitting leg. “I give them an unlimited guarantee.”
Currently, Ketut is treating seven patients suffering from various conditions. Some of them come from outside Bali, from Semarang, Medan, Madura and Sulawesi.
I Gede Yoga Yudamaputra, a 10-year-old boy from Klungkung, Bali, has been on the rehabilitation program for about two weeks. “He has not been able to walk since he was a baby, but he’s making progress now. He might be able to go home next month,” Ketut said.
Ardina from Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, came to Ketut’s house accompanied by her grandmother. “She was born prematurely, has a curved leg and she is mentally disabled,” Ketut said of the 16-year-old girl.
Mahmudah, Ardina’s grandmother, said the family heard about Ketut from the TV news and decided to come two weeks ago. “We just want her to recover, so we brought her here. She wasn’t even able to take a step, but now she can walk slowly.”
Despite the limited facilities in his house, Ketut always tries to help improve the condition of his patients, both physically and psychologically.
For him, it’s not enough to merely attach a prosthetic leg to their bodies, because giving them support to boost their mental state is more important.
“For me, physically challenged people have an even tougher struggle compared to regular people, because they live among non-physically challenged people.”
And it has been his struggle for years, campaigning that physically challenged people need both physical treatment and psychological therapy simultaneously.
“All of them have different problems in their lives. Once they’re frustrated, they always blame it on their condition,” he said, regretting that many people see it as a disgrace to have a physically challenged person in their families.
As part of his efforts to empower the physically challenged, he employs some of his ex-patients to help him manufacture the legs in his workshop.
After years of attempting to get people’s support for his work, Ketut doesn’t expect much.
“I just want to do my best to help physically challenged people. There are so many of them, they need help, but there are not many people who care about them.”