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Kenyan company becomes country’s first to 3D print prosthetic limbs

Stephen Ochieng   -  
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Kenyan cobbler, Stephen Ochieng’s life was changed forever following an accident a few years ago.

He was standing in a crowd of people at a packed station, all trying to board a train to get home after work when he fell under the train.

The damage to his legs was so severe they both had to be amputated.

Now, a new 3D printing company, Prothea Kenya, has helped him and other amputees to change their lives for the better.

"After suffering with a wheelchair in the slums, I met someone who introduced me to a prosthesis. Even though I got the previous one, it was very hectic in that after walking for a bit I would feel a lot of pain,” says Stephen.

Then, he was introduced to Prothea.

“When I went there, I found that their prostheses are very flexible, very affordable, they are cheap, they are very good," he says.

Cindy Cherotich also uses a prosthetic made by Prothea. The 24-year-old lost her leg in a motorcycle crash.

Still at high school at the time, the injury had a deep psychological impact, but says her prosthetic leg has helped her reclaim her independence.

Prothea is the first Kenyan company to successfully 3D printing prosthetic and was founded by Dr Nick Were so that people like Cindy and Stephen can have a better quality of life.

"Comparing between traditional way of making prosthesis and 3D printing, with 3D printing we have significant customisation based on the scanning of the patient's limb,” he says.

“This increases comfort for the patient. The second is the time it takes. With 3D printing we can have the prosthetic made within 24hrs," says Dr Were.

The cost benefits are also significant. Traditionally an above knee prosthesis would cost around $3,500, while a below knee one would go for around $1,600.

However, 3D printing has reduced the cost to $1,400 for the above knee prosthesis and $800 for the below knee one.

While 3D prosthesis save both money and time, Dr John Ondiege, the chief orthopedist at Kenyatta National Hospital, says they still have to learn to use it properly.

"The turnaround time is so much reduced. A patient can come and in less than two hours the patient is already being trained to walk. They are doing what we call gait training," he says.

Over the past year, Prothea has produced more than 100 pieces for amputees all over Kenya.

The World Health Organization estimates that around five million Africans live with some sort of limb amputation.

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