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First steps, first word, first laugh.  These are all milestones that parents look forward to for their child.  But for Thuy and her mother, those moments of celebration may never come.  Working at the Social Network for People with Disabilities (SNPWD), one of the initiatives of East Meets West, I witnessed the potential of investing in a community to address the needs of its people.

During a visit to one of their four partner hospitals, I visited the orthopedics room, where technicians made prosthetic arms and legs.  Compared to the ones being produced in the U.S., the prosthetics are very low tech, especially because the prosthetic arms are nonfunctional.  In the physical therapy room, I saw a mother changing the bag her son peed into.  But it was not like any catheter I have ever seen.  It was a plastic bag held closed by a clothes pin.  I have always been excited by the potential of technology to revolutionize the quality and delivery of health care. But Tuan and his mother were not concerned about five-armed surgical robots.  They hoped that even with simple physical therapy, he would walk on his own.

For the people working at SNPWD and East Meets West, it is not about the number of surgeries they can support or the number of physical therapy sessions they can fund, it is about the number of lives they can touch.  Science may not yet have the ability to reverse Tuan’s physical disabilities or produce low-cost fully functional prosthetics.  But the dedication of doctors, nurses, volunteers, and technicians can help people with disabilities lead fulfilling lives.  While technology can transform the future of mankind, only humanity can touch individual lives.  Humanity can give Tam back her legs after a fall down the stairs that left her paralyzed.  Humanity can help Khanh take his first steps.


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