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Donated Prosthetics Give Refugee New Lease on Life

Posted on February 27th, 2015.

By: Kellie Ferguson

San Diego, CA

Few connections lead to the life changing impact Paul Devermann and his family have had upon Mohammed Alithawi and his family.

Every Christmas over the past 15 years, the Devermann family seeks to give back to their community by helping others.

“When our kids were very young, my wife had the idea to adopt families at Christmas. Instead of just writing a check, we wanted to do something on a more personal level so our kids could see where the donations were going. About three or four years ago, we became involved with the Alliance,” said Devermann.

Through the Alliance for African Assistance, they have been able to sponsor different families around the Christmas holiday. This past Christmas, they sponsored the Alithawi family. Normally, a sponsorship includes Devermann and his family fulfilling the wishes of the family through a list that is given to them. This year, however, was different.

Mohammed Alithawi suffered a debilitating injury while he was a student at Baghdad University. To help support his education, he worked cleaning a marketplaces early in the morning before shoppers arrived. One morning, in the midst of gathering trash, Mohammed grasped at something that would alter his life forever. An IED (improvised explosive device), had been placed inside the market. After unknowingly picking up the IED, the device exploded and Mohammed lost both hands in addition to suffering injuries from pieces of shrapnel that lodged inside of him. His friend and fellow worker who had been cleaning beside him lost his life.

On July 3, 2014, Mohammed, his wife, and their three young daughters were given a fresh start in the United States. They had moved through three different countries since they left Baghdad during the war. They sought assistance through the Alliance, who helped them try and resettle into their new home. They were put into contact with caseworker Evelyn Chalaby, who works in the Resettlement program at the Alliance.

“The Resettlement program is so helpful to those arriving in the United States,” said Chalaby, who is an Iraqi immigrant herself. “It is beneficial to those coming from the Middle East because things are so different. We work hard so that within three months refugees start to understand what is going on- they can pay bills, enroll their kids in school, and start to figure out their new community.”

She handles the Alithawi’s case and provided translation for the Devermann family, as the Alithawi family speaks very little English. She also coordinated the sponsorship of the Alithawi family by the Devermanns.

“We have a list of different families that need assistance. The Devermann family contacted me via email and asked what the Alithawi family needed. I sent a list over with different items, like school bags, house wares, and other things they might need,” said Chalaby.

Devermann and his family collected items for Mohammed and his family, and brought them to their house.

“We went over Christmas Eve to deliver the gifts, and we were just talking with Mohammed. We asked if there was anything else we could do, and he asked if we could help get him hands. This led us to start doing some web research, and brought us to the LN4 foundation,” said Devermann.

After being asked for help by Mohammad, Devermann was initially discouraged by the costly process of finding someone prosthetic hands. Prosthetics usually cost thousands of dollars, and Mohammed needed two.

However, once Devermann found out about the LN4 Foundation, his hope returned. The LN4 Foundation

Prosthetic hands provided by LN4 foundation (Photo courtesy of Odyssey Teams)

Prosthetic hands provided by LN4 foundation (Photo courtesy of Odyssey Teams)

was created by Ernie Meadows in memory of his daughter, Ellen Meadows. The foundation designs and provides mechanical prosthetic hands to those who cannot afford alternative prosthetics. Through his connections with the Rotary club, Devermann made contact with the LN4 Foundation and was able to obtain two of the prosthetic hands at no cost.

“The hands are made of high grade plastic. They slip on the arm and are attached by Velcro. The person needs at least eight inches below the elbow for the prosthetic to fit on. They are made to be very easy to use without much training. They aren’t tied into the nerves or muscles though, they work mechanically,” explained Devermann.

The Devermann family brought the hands to Mohammed to be fitted. After fitting the hands, Mohammed was immediately able to start trying to use them.

“It was very emotional, I think especially for Mohammed’s wife, because she could see the pride and interest in his face,” said Devermann. “When we were there he was able to feed his daughter some cake, which I think he was very excited about.”

Mohammed was now able to perform simple tasks such as writing and eating. He will always have his scars as a reminder of the pain and difficulty he has faced in his past. With his new prosthetics, he is able to function better and work towards overcoming these difficulties. The Alliance Resettlement program and the generous support of the Devermann family have provided the Alithawi family with the tools they need to head towards a brighter future.