UIndy alumni help amputees, blind children in Sierra Leone

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For nine days in January, amputees and blind patients in Sierra Leone had their lives positively impacted by University of Indianapolis Manager of Operations Angie Presnell and other UIndy alumni. During this mission trip, teams of attendees measured prosthetics for amputees so that they may return next year with prosthetics for the amputees. In addition to helping amputees, attendees worked at the Bombali School for the Blind, which is also an orphanage, according to Presnell. 

Photo Contributed by Britnee King Presnell takes a cast of an above-elbow amputee, who will receive a new prosthetic on the next trip.

This trip, which was through Indian Creek Christian Church, was the third mission trip Presnell has attended. When the opportunity to go on this trip the first time came about, Presnell said she thought back to the challenges her mother faces as an amputee. Presnell said she couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone in a less fortunate country, so she wanted to make a difference.

“My mom, in 2014, became a below the knee amputee…. She has medical insurance and has everything that she needs to function in life as an amputee,” Presnell said. “It was very difficult. I’m her only child and going through that with my mom was life changing…. She was 70 years old at the time and it was a major change [for her and I].”. 

Presnell’s role during the mission trips are to assist the amputee patients by gathering their personal information, bringing them back for treatment, and making sure the practitioners have the appropriate patients. This year, however, Presnell said she got to make a cast for a woman, which was a specific part of her trip that she said she really enjoyed. Casts are made using plaster rolls and a bucket of water, according to Presnell. 

“I had never had that opportunity before because, while I’m a UIndy grad, I’m not an occupational therapist or a prosthetist,” Presnell said. “So I never worked with the amputees in that way…. Getting the opportunity to actually cast someone and do the hands on [work] was really exciting.”

According to Presnell, there are a large number of amputees in Sierra Leone because of a brutal civil war that started in 1991 and ended in 2002. Many had an arm or leg, and sometimes even both arms or legs cut off. Medical care in Sierra Leone is also lacking, according to Presnell.

Photo Contributed by Britnee King UIndy Alumni Sarah Humbird visits with kids from the neighborhood who come to see the team.

“There’s a company in Indianapolis that has started a nonprofit prosthetic company,” Presnell said. “We go and do measurements and then the following year…. we take prosthetics back for them and it really can be life changing for them because many of them are not able to work and support their families.”

University of Indianapolis Alumni Sarah Humbird has traveled to Sierra Leone with Presnell the past two years. In the mornings, Humbird helped with measurements for the prosthetics and demonstrated how to use them to the patients. During the afternoons, she worked in the Bombali School for the Blind and ran a Vacation Bible School with another alum.

“We got to spend the afternoons doing crafts and games and singing and dancing with [the kids],” Humbird said. “That was super fun because I got to know the kids in a way that I hadn’t [in] years past.”

Humbird said she went on this trip due to her interest in working with amputees. She first heard about the trip while she was attending school, and due to the timeframe of the trip, she could not take two weeks off from school to attend. Because of this, during her first year out of college, she decided to go on the mission trip.

“It started as an interest in prosthetics, but I think as I’ve gone in the past couple of years, it’s not just the prosthetic side,” Humbird said. “We’ve developed really great relationships with the kids at the blind school. They’re incredibly precious and they’re such a bright spot. I definitely look forward to seeing them year after year and getting to know them better.”

Presnell believes that her faith calls her to help people across the world. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she is unsure how to help people in Sierra Leone. Humbird also says that resources and supplies are lacking in hospitals in Sierra Leone. 

“Sierra Leone was actually the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic several years ago,” Humbird said. “Unfortunately, this is not something that’s necessarily new to them. They have dealt with this in years past. That being said, they don’t have any resources over there. Several members of our team have visited local hospitals and clinics and they don’t have the supplies they need.”

Students can help by donating to one of the two nonprofits that coincided with the trip: New Life with Limbs and Restoring Vision and Hope. Humbird says that they offer many ways to donate, including child sponsorships and fundraisers, which are communicated through their Facebook pages.

Photos Contributed by Britnee King

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