Grateful newcomers hope prosthetic hands will help them grab the Canadian dream
After losing their fingers to frostbite, men who survived frigid border trek planning to find jobs
Two men who lost all of their fingers to frostbite in a near-fatal quest for asylum in Canada have been given a big part of their independence back.
For the first time in more than a year, Seidu Mohammed, 25, and Razak Iyal, 34, can pick up a coin or hold a coffee cup with one hand. Both have received prosthetic hands, allowing them to once again perform some of life's simplest tasks.
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"We've been praying for it and God has answered our prayers and things are getting better always every day," said Mohammed Tuesday afternoon. Just hours earlier, he said, he had dropped change on the bus and couldn't pick it up.
Tuesday was the first time he used his new prosthetic hands — called M-Fingers — which bend when a patient flexes his or her wrist. The moment brought tears to at least one person in the room.
"For him to pick up a coin, OK, and pick up that small screwdriver ... it's like, 'OK am I really seeing this? Is it true that now he can do that?'" said Stella Kankam, a member of Winnipeg's Ghanaian community.
Kankam has been supporting Iyal and Mohammed since they arrived in the city in December 2016. She has watched Mohammed at the dinner table, struggling to put food on his plate. "We have to scoop it for him," she said.
"It's been a lot of challenge in our life," added Mohammed. "Sometimes we get a little bit stressed out and frustrated."
A dream come true
Iyal received his prosthetic hands last Friday and was at Anderson Orthopedics Tuesday to see Mohammed get his pair. "Today's the day when I, we, got it and I'll say wow the dream come true," said Iyal.
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"We want to work, we want to be part of the society, even to pay our taxes, we don't want to sit home taking ... assistance from the government. That's not what we think, that's not what we are here for. We are here to contribute to the country."
The two Ghanaian men made international headlines after their near-deadly Christmas Eve trek into Manitoba from the U.S. in 2016.
The men got lost on their walk into Canada, which they were making as part of a last-ditch effort to get asylum after spending time in American detention centres where they tried unsuccessfully to get refugee status. Both lost all their fingers. Iyal, however, was able to keep one thumb and part of the other.
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Before coming to Canada, Mohammed said he feared for his life after being outed as a bisexual man. Iyal said he feared death at the hands of his own siblings over a dispute regarding his late father's estate.
Both men were granted refugee protection in Canada. They have since been followed by more than 1,000 fellow asylum seekers crossing the U.S. border into Manitoba in 2017 and more than 25,000 crossing into Quebec.
'Very very grateful'
Both men said they wanted to thank Manitoba Health, which covered the cost of the prosthetic hands — about $10,000 a hand.
"We are very, very grateful for everything that they do for us," said Iyal.
Peter ten Krooden, a prosthetist at Anderson Orthopedics, said he's already used the M-Fingers on two other patients who have also had their fingers amputated after getting frostbite from Manitoba's brutal winter cold temperatures.
"We can never replace what he's lost unfortunately, but this, at least it does give him some quality of life back which is exciting to see him do so well," he said.