Wednesday, July 18, 2007


(Part 2 of 2)

First published in The Jakarta Post, July 18, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

Prosthetist and orthotist Sumedi started working at Fatmawati General Hospital in 1976 as an assistant to senior prosthetists.

A prosthetist designs, measures, fabricates, fits and services prostheses as prescribed by a medical rehabilitation specialist; an orthotist is a medical technician who designs and applies an external device to a part of the body to correct deformities.

"I initially aspired to be an engineer, but God destined me to become a `foot engineer'," Sumedi said, smiling, during an interview with The Jakarta Post at his home.

Born Oct. 14, 1955, Sumedi is married with two children.

He said many prosthetists and orthotists of his generation did not receive any formal training at tertiary institutions, as the subject did not exist in the country.

Only in April 2007 Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari officially opened the Surakarta Health Polytechnic (Poltekes), which operates under the ministry.

The polytechnic has a prosthetics and orthotics program with a specifically designed competency-based curriculum and professional teaching equipment.

Even without formal training, however, Sumedi's expertise is unquestionable.

"I learned both from quality courses here and abroad, and through many years of experience as an assistant to the senior prosthetists and orthotists at the hospital," said Sumedi, who is a member of Indonesian Orthotist and Prosthetist Association (IOPI).

Sumedi has also participated in various training courses which include the six-month International Prosthetics and Orthotics Training in Taiwan (1980), the Myoelectric Below-Elbow Hand Prosthesis Training held by Otto Bock Scandinavia and the Health Ministry in Jakarta (1990), the 100-hour Paramedic Training held by Health Ministry (1993), and the two-week Medical Rehabilitation Training held by the ministry (2001).

Sumedi has not kept a record of the number of prosthetics and orthotics patients for whom he has fitted and serviced artificial limbs during his career, "but it must have been hundreds", he said.

And as prostheses need regular servicing, Sumedi often developed close ties with the patients. One such life-long patient is Sumani.

Sumedi first met a disabled Sumani in 1978, when the latter started working at a wheelchair company associated with Fatmawati hospital.

The two live in Pondok Labu, South Jakarta, an area relatively close to the hospital. Sumani now works as a welder at a workshop near Sumedi's residence.

For many years Sumedi, has checked and serviced regularly Sumani's transtibial prosthesis -- an artificial limb replacing a leg missing below the knee.

Thirty years ago during a red-eye delivery to Muntilan, Magelang, an exhausted Sumani, then a truck driver, lost control of the vehicle and slammed into a mahogany tree. He survived the accident, but his left leg was amputated below the knee at the Army Hospital in Magelang.

Sumani stayed at home for a year, frustrated and depressed, until social workers from the Health Ministry approached and encouraged him to undergo a special education program for the disabled being held at the Prof. Dr. R. Suharso Hospital in Surakarta (Solo), Central Java.

"The social workers back then were very active in looking for the disabled to place in training centers for free -- they even provided free accommodations and meals," Sumani told the Post at Sumedi's home. He added that the present government should also pay more attention to disabled individuals from poor families like himself.

At that time, the Suharso training center for the disabled was the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia.

"They offered various training courses such as carpentry, welding and electronics. I chose the welding course," said Sumani, who participates in the Association for Indonesia's Disabled (PPSI).

"The center drew many people from across the country, including some veterans of the East Timor war," he recalled.

Sumani, born Aug. 8, 1950, joined the one-year training program at the Suharso center. Upon his successful completion, Sumani was sent to Jakarta to work at the wheelchair factory.

"I once invited Sumani to be a model during a prosthetics workshop so that he could get a new prosthesis for free," said prosthetist Sumedi, followed by Sumani's laughter.

Sumani, who still looks and energetic and high-spirited, showed the Post his amputated leg and transtibial prosthesis.

He gently tapped his knee, which remained intact and strong. The lingering limb extended about 20 centimeters from the knee.

"I can still drive a car," he claimed proudly, putting the artificial limb on his leg, then pushing it against the ground to snap it in place.

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