Prosthetic triage: Inside the Paralympic repair shop
Ottobock repair shop in Rio is part emergency room, part industrial workshop
By Chris Corday and Chris Brown, CBC News Posted: Sep 14, 2016 11:00 AM ET Last Updated: Sep 14, 2016 5:04 PM ET
When you're an elite Paralympic competitor and your artificial limb isn't feeling quite right, there's a repair shop at Rio's athletes' village that can help.
Run by the German prosthetic manufacturer Ottobock, it's part emergency room and part industrial workshop where prosthetics get made, fitted and tested.
The 100 technicians and staff, who speak a total of 29 languages, expect to perform more than 2,000 procedures or fixes before the Rio Paralympic Games wrap up.
Canadians on staff
The CBC visited the facility, which is next to the athletes' cafeteria inside the village. Cindy Doucet (second from left) is from Ontario and helps to welcome the athletes to the workshop.
Three other Canadians are on staff, including Hughes Myner, who specializes in repairing and welding wheelchairs.
"Being able to help someone that will increase their performance at the games, to see them compete and even see them win medals is priceless," says Myner, who lives in Dundas, Ont.
A welder by trade, Myner has repaired the wheelchairs of many Paralympians, including the members of Canada's wheelchair rugby team. Some newly repaired wheelchairs wait for their owners to claim them.
Bomb victim fitted for new leg
During our visit, the Ottobock team was helping one of the two Independent Paralympic athletes, a refugee from Syria. Ibrahim Al Hussein lost his right leg below the knee in a roadside bomb explosion in 2013.
Through a translator, he told CBC News he was fitted for an artificial limb at a refugee camp in Turkey but it was uncomfortable. He says he fled on a boat to Greece and ended up in Athens where he took up swimming, but still wasn't happy with his prosthetic. Once he arrived in Rio, technicians with Ottobock spent an afternoon trying to finesse the fit of a new prosthetic leg.
The Ottobock technicians first took a plaster mold of Al Hussein's leg and used it to create a plastic mount that fit snugly to his knee. A technician makes a new transtibial socket, which is meant for an amputee who has a knee but no lower leg.
Once Al Hussein felt comfortable walking with his new leg, it was polished with a machine.
For some athletes, repairing an artificial limb goes far beyond simply improving performance at the games. It can dramatically improve their lives long after the competition is over.
But designing an artificial limb for an athlete can be very expensive. Some of them in the Ottobock workshop are worth more than $15,000.
Here at the Paralympics, the company provides the repair service for free. Tigram Garbiyan is an Ottobock employee from the company's Moscow workshop.
Canadian Gary Sjonnesen of Cambridge, Ont., is the prosthetist who fits the limbs for most of the athletes who come.
He says while many countries have their own specialized teams to help athletes with mobility issues, many poorer nations do not.
Sjonnesen says for them this service is invaluable. "We know a lot of these people have come with challenges, we just try to get them back as whole as possible," he said.
Here, some worn-out braces lie on a shelf. They'll be replaced with new ones, thanks to this exceptional repair shop.
Watch Chris Brown's documentary on the Ottobock repair shop
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