Former nurse Bobby Frach met Juan Mejia four years ago, on her first missionary trip to Honduras with a Little-Rock-based non-denominational group called LT Care Ministries. As a child of about 8, Juan had been run over by a train, and as a result, had lost his left arm below the elbow, as well as most of his left leg and his right heel.
When Frach saw him at age 18, “His 10-year-old prostheses were in terrible shape,” she recalls. “His only source of livelihood was to produce arts and crafts, and for a while he had been able to use his original prosthetic arm to weave bracelets and belts. But over the years, both of his prostheses had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer use them. As a matter of fact, the hand was actually taped to the arm; it had fallen off!”
Frach determined to put forth every effort to bring Juan to the United States in order to find help; her first step was to meet with Frank Snell, CPO, FAAOP, who agreed to provide prosthetic assistance if Frach could fight Juan’s way through the red tape to get him to Little Rock for care.
The lengthy and difficult process required the service of an attorney in Honduras to work with the ministry to trace Juan’s mother and create a birth certificate (Honduras does not keep birth records, so Juan is not sure of his exact age). The process also involved a visit from Frach’s son in order to help get Juan a national I.D. card, a bank account, and a passport. To obtain his visa, from among a crowd of 300 visa applicants per day, Frach solicited additional help from Leo Monterry, the liaison for the Latin American affairs for Congressman Vic Snyder, personnel at the American Embassy, and financial support and prayers from many friends.
When at last Juan arrived at Snell Laboratory for care, Frank Snell recalls, “I had never seen anything like it. The prostheses looked like part of a rag doll. The arm was broken at the wrist, held on with duct tape. I’m sure it broke because he was pushing on it, to get up off the floor.
“He walked with a single forearm crutch in his right hand, using the crutch as a second leg, and dragging his hip disarticulation prosthesis
behind him like a useless third leg. The suspension belt for his hip socket
was broken off, and Juan was using the belt of his jeans to support it. The stress on his natural arm, from using the crutch like a leg, was simply wearing out his elbow joint
.” As his prostheses gradually deteriorated over the years, and he outgrew
them and wore them out, apparently Juan simply learned to live with them because there was no alternative.
Snell Laboratory provided Juan with a new hip disarticulated prosthe- sis with a lightweight state-of-the-art hip joint
, polycentric knee, and a SACH foot
. For his short below-the-elbow prosthesis
, he was fitted with an interchangeable conventional hook and hand. Both prostheses were made to be as durable, simple, and maintenance-free as possible so that they will last longer when exposed to the rugged Honduran terrain.
Snell was also able to fit him with new crutches, which allowed the 22-year-old to walk in an upright
and stable position again for the first time in many years.
Witnessing Juan’s first steps with his new prosthesis
was a moving ex- perience for Juan as well as observers and well-wishers. There were cheers all around when he threw his old prostheses and crutch into the trashcan.
“It’s such a blessing to that young man,” reports Frach. “Now he can use his hands, because he no longer needs to lean sideways on his crutch. Now he even walks without the cane
on flat surfaces.
“I can’t say enough good things about Frank Snell and his staff,” she adds with feeling. “The day Juan got his leg fitted, the girls in the office got Juan a huge balloon bouquet, and he was just thrilled to death. They had written little congratulatory messages on the balloons, as well—it was just precious.
“Juan kept saying in his broken English, ‘these are the nicest people!’ and ‘I just don
’t understand—I can never repay them.’”
As Frank Snell replied, speaking for his team, “Juan, the smile on your face is payment enough.”
“I am a lucky man,” Juan marveled, then corrected himself, “No, I am a blessed man!”
Since Frach makes regular trips to Honduras with LT Care Ministries, she will keep Snell Laboratory apprised of future needs for replacement components and parts. She encourages others to follow her lead by sharing their helping hands—skilled or unskilled—by contacting Jim Phillips at LT Care: 501-765-8477.