Friday, November 22, 2013


Hey friends…many of you have asked how you could donate to the project or how you could help out. First and foremost, this clinic is need of financial assistance. Much of what exists here has come out of the pockets of those that run this clinic. They have had some aid, but there is an ongoing need for dollars.

I’ll list the big items that were purchased to get this clinic back on its feet and you can decide if you want to “buy” an item or put money towards a specific tool. I've also added some regular outgoing finances. A tax-deductible receipt can be provided by following my instructions at the end of this blog. The prices listed are in Canadian dollars.

These prostheses are homemade by some of the Center's patients.
Heat Gun - $25.00
Saw for Cutting Plastic - $164.00
Drill Press - $170.00
Plywood for Work Benches - $193.00
Bench Grinder - $200.00
Shop Vac - $243.00
Monthly Rent - $300
Salaries - $400
Vacuum Pump - $465.00
Band Saw - $540.00
Oven - $2430.00
Scholarship Fund to send Bolivian Technician to school for Prosthetics (2-3 years of study)- $8000

In order to receive a tax-deductible receipt, donate to an organization called “Sending out an SOS”. The founder is a female Bolivian amputee who became an actress, moved to the states, started a prosthetic business and wanted to give back to Bolivia. Contributions can be made at this address through Paypal, and through credit card by pressing the “donate” button. If you need a tax ID, please email me and I can give it to you. Checks can also be sent to this address:

Sending out an SOS
14431 Ventura Blvd., Suite 290
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

Please make a note that the donation is for “CMA Bolivia Prosthetics” and email me at to let me know when, how much, and how (check, Paypal, credit card…) this donation was made so we can follow up and ensure that each donation was credited appropriately.

Remember that any amount helps! You don’t have to pay for an entire tool to contribute to this clinic. We believe in what is happening here and feel honored to be a part of it and are grateful for a community of people who believe in us.  

Views of La Paz

Here are the views seen from the hill beside our apartment.

According to some, the new president Evo Morales likes football better than politics so many pitches have received new artificial turf over the last few years.

Can you see the Lego building?

Mt Illumani can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.

Sky is clear and blue at 12500' elevation

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Brink

The Centro de Miembros Artificiales is about to re-open! As mentioned previously much of the equipment for the prosthetics lab was purchased in a single day at one of the worlds largest open-air markets in El Alto.

Bandsaw for cutting plastic and anything else that might need a quick zip during the fabrication of a prosthetic leg.

Drill press is critical in the fabrication of the in-house made Limbs International polycentric/locking knees. The knees are cut and drilled from black delrin plastic.

Bench grinder modified for use as our primary socket trim-line shaping tool. It will serve as our “Trautmen” grinder.

Ivonne, the Center's manager, demonstrated the fine art of bartering to get a decent price on the Rigid brand-name shop vac (in the corner of the pic) which will be used as our lab’s dust collection system.

This refrigeration pump (purchased mail-order from Argentina) will serve as our thermoforming vacuum. In combination with the shop-made PVC surge tank we hope to have a very functional system for cheap.

And the grand-daddy of them all is this Brazilian gas-fueled convection oven to heat our plastics for thermoforming. Finding this oven was like partaking in a city-wide treasure hunt. You see, in Bolivia you can’t simply search the internet for what stores sell the type of equipment you are needing. And no, you can’t search the yellow pages either. You literally have to hit the streets. This meant many days and countless hours of taxis, mini-buses, micro-buses (oddly larger than the mini-bus), and walking to find the best oven to meet our needs and budget. We are happy to be finished explaining to shop owners that YES we are going to cook plastic, not fine pastries. However, to celebrate the purchase, we ARE going to bake a delicious cake and some scones in the oven on Friday before it is tainted by the first piece of polypropelene.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I have a story. It’s one about thankfulness, about connections, about incredible hook-ups, and about thankfulness.

As you already know, when we moved here we were living in a shared accommodation. We were thankful for many things there…the puppies, the garden, the quiet…and then we moved to our own place. We have been thankful for…our own space. I haven’t allowed myself to say that this accommodation is difficult. I haven’t allowed myself to want for more or wish for something better. We could live here. We could be happy. We could make-do. I mean, no big deal that we have been toasting our bread on a pan or that we only have 2 pots. We have hot water. We have a bed. We have our own space. BUT, the truth is we are living in a tin can. A bell literally goes off just outside our window every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. It marks quarter after, half past, quarter to, and then the hour with an addition bell to mark what hour it is. Midnight is a spectacular 16 bells. We only have internet in our kitchen window because apparently the owner has another property across the street so they put the modem somewhere in the middle. The people above seem to be clomping around in high heels until 2am everyday, and someone in our apartment owns a yappy dog.

Don’t get me wrong. We have been planning all along to live here for 6 months. We could do it and be fine…but sometimes beyond all reason, events conspire to provide you with your heart’s desire… a longing you wouldn’t even dare voice for fear of seeming ungrateful. And here the story begins.

Two days after we arrived we were exploring our new surroundings. We discovered an adorable little yard that appeared to be a kid’s play area or daycare of sorts. A friendly, foreign looking man stood outside so we decided to approach him to ask him about this place. He did in fact speak English and took us inside to translate for us, where we discovered that this WAS a daycare that could take Amelia so she could make friends and learn language. It turns out this was also the place that our dear friend and coworker, Ivonne, had in mind for Amelia before we even came.

About one week later we saw this man across the street and waved to him. No interaction. Just a wave. Another week later we were walking in a plaza near our apartment when this man approached us out of nowhere and said he had been thinking about us! He told us that his family shares a garden with another family who happens to be moving back to Spain for 6 months and they are looking for someone to sublet their flat. He knew we were in town for that amount of time and he and his wife thought we would be perfect! Duane, Amelia and I checked out the flat that very moment and fell in love. It is the most beautiful little home. Amelia immediately made herself comfortable, digging in the dirt, and riding on the little bikes (yes, there are little kids that live there). They even told us that hummingbirds come to visit. There is NO BELL, and it’s only 3 blocks from the clinic where Duane is working! 

SO…in 3 short weeks we will be moving to this amazing location that I can’t even believe just fell in our laps. I am thankful beyond words. Thankful that our desires are known before we even give words to them. Thankful that we don’t even have to give words to our desires. Thankful that men like Lluis exist, and thankful for places that feel like home.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Valle de la Luna and El Alto

We had a weekend of adventure. We went to a place called the Valley of the Moon. They didn’t mince words when they named that place. It was a valley and it was moony. And we also ventured to the top of the world to a market (and city) called El Alto.

Now, you might consider any sort of outing in a foreign country to be an adventure, but add to that an inability to communicate (other then hand gestures), a toddler, and public transit, and you’ve got yourself a full-blown Bolivian escapade! There are mini vans here that are privately owned but have a specific route that they have worked out with the city to take, and so for mere dimes and nickels we are able to travel all over the city and surrounding area (come on Saskatoon…jump on board). They have little placards in the front window that tell you where they are going, which only prove to be useful if you know where that place is. They cram as many people in these little vans as humanly possible and the driver takes a mental note of where everyone gets on and gets off so as to get the right fare. We have fully embraced said transit. And so for the Valle de la Luna outing we climbed aboard a little mini bus for a 40-minute drive through some of the craziest topography I’ve ever seen.

Not having any clue where we are going, and not really knowing how to tell the driver where we want to get off makes for an interesting ride, but we succeeded and found ourselves in what felt like the desert with all sorts of jutty, spiky rock formations. Valle de la Luna was a beautiful and confounding place.

Now, El Alto deserves a bit of explanation. It used to be a part of La Paz. It was where much of the city’s poor lived (and still live), and consequently where most of the indigenous people reside. Over time it grew and is now bigger than La Paz, and is considered a city of its own. Here is where they house one of the world’s biggest open-air markets…it is said that it would take you seven full days of exploring to see the entire market. I believe it. If I weren’t with Bolivians I might never have come out of El Alto. People of La Paz go there because they can get absolutely anything they want for very little money. Things are crazy cheap. We went because, as Duane said in the previous post, we are currently setting up the clinic and are purchasing tools to make Centro de Miembros functional.

This trip proved to be profitable, as they bought almost all of the tools needed to get the clinic running again and we had one of the best views of the city we’ve ever had. Sitting at nearly 4000 meters, El Alto lent us a spectacular look at our temporary home. The only casualty was one cell phone nicked from the pocket of our Bolivian friend. Sneaky little pickpocket.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Starting From Scratch

Some people bite off more than they can chew. That describes how I feel; except I didn’t take that gargantuan bite… some less-than-lovely folks in La Paz threw a curve ball at Centro de Miembros Artificiales and it landed right in my mouth. I’m catching my breath from time-to-time, but still unable to chew this wad of work down into a manageable size.

To reiterate; approximately one month before our arrival in La Paz, the prosthetics clinic I am volunteering at was forced to move locations and due to other complications also lost all of its equipment. So, rather than showing up here and observing a fully functioning prosthetics clinic to critique where/when/how I might add to their practice, I find myself purchasing fabrication equipment in a foreign country (one in which nothing is advertised online), planning work flow in the lab, advising on lowest-cost-possible-McGyver-style fabrication setups, delegating tasks to part-time volunteers, and giving general operation guidance. I must say I am lucky to have become one corner of the triangle that is strong enough to get this much needed prosthetics clinic up and running again. The other two corners of the triangle are Matt (the American co-founder of the clinic, currently hogging all the American bandwidth to email and skype with us 24/7) and Ivonne (permanent volunteer clinic manager) the never-tiring, hardest working, loveliest, humanitarian Bolivian grandmother who does everything.

Our goal at Centro de Miembros Artificiales is to be operational as soon as possible (2 more weeks?) so that the two Bolivian prosthetic technicians can come back to work and we can all continue the service of providing the best possible functional prosthesis free of charge to the underprivileged amputees of Bolivia.

Monday, November 4, 2013

First Impressions

So, we’ve been in La Paz for 12 days now and I have to say, this city is really growing on me. We are constantly discovering new and breathtaking views, and are amazed at how quickly and drastically the weather can change. The clouds coming over the mountains often speak of rain and thundershowers, and the booming claps echo throughout the valley. Even though we see this everyday, it doesn’t mean that it will rain. I haven’t quite figured out how to predict the weather. Most days have been warm and sunny…a nice fall day.

There are playgrounds everywhere here!!! I was pleasantly surprised (as was Amelia), so we have been frequenting a few of them. It’s unclear to me yet if the same people go to the same playgrounds, making it a market for new friends…time will tell. There are also plenty of green spaces, which they have placed in the middle of their round-abouts…cars whipping around, making this mother a bit nervous.

People don’t really seem to care whether we are here or not. It doesn’t have the same vibe of many of the other countries I have visited where you are a bit of a novelty and points and stares are the norm. We are free to do as we please without much notice from others, which is nice. Amelia still seems to draw some attention though…her tiny frame (making her the same size as many of the other kids her age here) and her blonde hair are a cause for cheek squeezes and “bonitas” from people of all ages. Teenage girls seem to pay the most attention to her. And old ladies.

Only 12 days in and I have already realized some things I have taken for granted, and which I am thankful for at home;
Clean water – We are boiling water all the time so we can wash vegetables, make coffee, etc.
Hot water – Each tap only has one faucet…cold water. We are also boiling water so we can wash our dishes in hot water. At least the showers have hot water, so I’m incredibly grateful for that. My first shower here was very, very cold because I didn’t understand how to make the water hot with just one tap (basically you have to nearly shut the water off to make it hot…the more it is shut, the hotter the water will be).
Flat topography – Everything is on a hill. Everything. You are either always going up, or going down. And we’re not talking about slight grades here…we are literally hiking. Our butts are going to be awesome when we come home!
Unlaboured breathing – Since we are so high in elevation, our lungs have not yet adjusted. We pant up hills, we pant while putting on our clothes, and we pant while stirring a pot of water. Standing up from sitting is enough to make you pass out. Amelia has developed a bit of high altitude sleep apnea, which scared me at first but her breath has been regulating itself as she acclimatizes.

We moved today…when we arrived in La Paz, we were staying in a shared house. It’s a massive home with more rooms then I even know. We were sharing with many Bolivians and a couple from the UK. There was a beautiful garden and a nice courtyard where Amelia liked to play. I know, I know, this sounds ideal but with all of the change our wee one has experienced we felt that it would be the best for her to have our own space. Any time anyone came into the kitchen she would stop eating. There were all sorts of tiny, breakable knick-knacks that she loved to play with that were at her level. I felt like I was always telling her to put stuff down. At least now we can make a home. And we don’t have to work around others in a small kitchen.

The new place we moved into is a small apartment very close to a nice area of town. An English guy lived here before us and left this place in a state…the expectations to leave a place clean apparently aren’t the same as at home. The place is cute though, and will be comfortable for us. We will have to get used to the sounds and smells that come from our surrounding neighbours (ie the thumping from upstairs, and the bell that seems to ring every 30 minutes from somewhere outside), but that’s all a part of living somewhere else.

There’s a lot more to say, but I think I’ll leave that for another post. Duane can update about the clinic and all that is happening there. Although this post was about all that we are getting used to and such, we are very comfortable here and are very happy to be living in La Paz. We like it here. Of course we miss our friends and family, but the winter will pass quickly and we will be home just as the flowers are poking through the soil. Adios for now!