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Giving amputees a fighting chance

Published:Wednesday | September 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Clarence Blake works on a prosthetic limb at the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre in St Andrew. - Gladstone Taylor/Photographer

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

CLARENCE BLAKE is no miracle worker, but for more than 40 years, he has been instrumental in assisting amputees get back on their 'feet' again.

A survivor of the deadly polio epidemic in Jamaica in the 1950s, Blake has mastered his craft - that of making prosthesis for Jamaicans who have lost limbs.

Blake has been a prosthetic technician at the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre in St Andrew since June 1969 and after 43 years, he still has a passion for making devices to help people walk.

He went to Brazil on a five-month training course in 1976, at which time, the technician said he was exposed to techniques in various areas of prosthesis.

In a recent Gleaner interview, Blake pointed out that it was Sir John Golding, who in the late 1960s, was conducting a restructuring exercise at the centre, transferred him from the then Surgical Boot Department to the Prosthetic Department.

Since that time, the prosthetic technician has crafted hundreds of prostheses for patients who have been referred to the centre by hospitals across the country.

Sir John played a key role in the establishment of the prosthetic workshop, which was funded in part by the United Nations in 1965.

Asked what kind of reaction he normally gets from clients after they fit their artificial limbs, Blake said he often received mixed responses depending on the age group.

He said an elderly person normally takes more time to adjust to the new walking instrument when compared with a younger foot amputee.

"We make it and set it up. We don't just finish it and give it to them. We put them through a process of trying it on and doing some exercise to make the adjustment. In the end the reaction is always favourable because it is like putting a life back together," Blake explained.

He said some clients adjust very quickly and in less than two months it would be difficult to determine whether they were fitted with artificial limbs.

"After a month or so, a patient can return and if you were not the one who made it (the prosthesis) then you would not even recognise that this is the person who is using prostheses."

One of the challenges faced by Blake, who is assisted by Lancie Powell, another prosthetic technician and Toto Campbell, is the inadequate supply of raw material to satisfy the demand from clients.

He said the process to make prosthesis has come a far way from the early days when the workshop was established. Most of the material used in the process is imported.

Blake divulged that the late noted cultural icon Ranny Williams visited the Sir John Golding Centre for work on his prosthesis.