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‘It feels amazing’: Ukrainian war amputees given new lease on life

By Joy Malbon, CTV National News Washington Bureau Chief

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    WASHINGTON, D.C. (CTV Network) — At a Maryland prosthetics lab, a team of experts is making arms and legs to help give wounded Ukrainian soldiers a new lease on life.

It’s cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technology that these wounded warriors cannot get in a warzone.

The war in Ukraine has been “devastating,” Mike Corcoran, a specialist in prosthetics, told CTV National News.

Since Russia’s invasion, it’s believed thousands of Ukrainians have lost limbs. Their lives shattered by bombs and roadside explosives.

Corcoran is a co-founder of Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics, which helps veteran amputees. He and his team donate their time and expertise to the centre, and with the help of generous donations—nearly US$1 million so far—they have been able to treat about a dozen Ukrainian soldiers, with more on the way.

Having developed their skills treating U.S. soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, Corcoran and his team have the skills to treat some of the most difficult cases.

“One of the patients that came over we were told was suicidal, a double above-the-knee amputee,” Corcoran said. “He was told he couldn’t get prosthetics in Ukraine … he was very depressed, but he’s doing fantastic now.”

Corcoran says the centre’s goal is to make patients feel whole again.

Oleksandr Fedun, 23, had been in the Ukrainian army for two years before a Russian landmine hit him and his convoy. He lost both legs.

He was facing a life in a wheelchair and crutches. But, after just a month at the centre, he’s learning how to use his new legs.

“Honestly, it feels amazing,” he told CTV National News through translator Hanna Ortiz, who volunteers at the facility. “It feels like I won the lottery.”

There are fittings and adjustments needed for each prosthetic, along with weeks of rehab to get patients used to their new limbs. The centre can also customize the colour of prosthetics to match various skin tones. One soldier asked for the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.

Ortiz has lost both her brothers to the war. Her parents refuse to leave their home in Kherson. She checks the news and worries about them every day. Volunteering at the medical centre as a translator helps her cope.

“I didn’t feel I was doing enough,” Ortiz told CTV National News. “Connecting with these guys, seeing them from being depressed and sad and losing their limbs to actually walking and being happy and talking about coming back to Ukraine … makes me feel like I’m actually doing something.”

Corcoran says if they had better funding they could treat more patients like Roman Rodion.

When Russian forces spotted Rodion’s unit, they began shelling. Five people were injured, two died, another lost his leg. It took four hours to get Rodion to the hospital, and by that time it was impossible to save his arm.

The amputation was so high up, the centre built a harness to hold what would be his new bionic arm. Looking in the mirror as they adjusted it, pinching his new fingers, Rodion smiled and said, kind of proudly, “I look like a cyborg.”

The centre has plans to expand its work, but it’s an expensive venture. A foot shell can cost about $8,000, a leg $25,000.

“This is very costly stuff, but it’s robust. It’s not delicate, ” Corcoran said. “Even though you think it’s expensive, it’s designed to be abused, designed for normal human living.”

That’s the idea. Eventually, the war will end, and the Ukrainians treated at the facility will go back home.

Fedun, who has been here the longest at about a month, is fine-tuning his reflexes with his new knees. Part of his rehabilitation therapy is to fall down and get up again, an ability many of us take for granted. He does it four times, proving he “can” do it.

He says he plans not just to walk with his new legs, but to run back to the front lines and fight for his country.

“It’s a miracle,” he said. “I feel like myself again. This is where hope is born.”

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