When Carol Fellows offers to lend a hand, she doesn't really mean it. Carol wants to give a hand, literally. She is one of the founding board members of the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation that gives prosthetic hands, free of charge, to recipients in East Africa.
Two years ago Carol had retired from her radiation oncology practice in Klamath Falls and after a lifetime of giving, found herself at loose ends. "I think my sense of service goes back to when I was a Girl Scout," says Carol. "I really believe we need to pay back for living on this earth."
If you would like to know more about the nonprofit Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation, go to www.ln-4.org. The site contains a video of the hands being fitted and given to recipients. It also contains links and ways to contact the foundation. Future trips include visits to Vietnam and Rwanda where there is a great need for prosthetic limbs.
Not knowing where to put her considerable energy, experience and passion for service, Carol was searching for a meaningful direction. The Give Hope-Give a Hand project came into her life when she attended a presentation given by Rotary. "I was captured from that moment on, and it hasn't let go."
Carol, who is a member of Rotary District 5110 and has served as an Assistant Governor for the Klamath and Lake Area, and other Rotary representatives from the Rogue Valley traveled to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Once there, they worked with local groups to identify and fit the prosthetic hands on over 200 recipients. The youngest was not quite 3 and having been born with no arms, had never fed himself before. Within half an hour of getting his hand, he was eating a banana and holding a toy.
The foundation that captured Carol's heart and spirit was originally conceived by an industrial designer named Ernie Meadows. He wanted to honor the memory of his daughter who was killed in an auto accident. When he learned that there were a quarter of a million people worldwide in need of hand prostheses, he knew he had found his project. He designed and produced a prototype of a functional prosthetic hand that costs only $50 to make and through the foundation there is never a cost to the recipients. In order to qualify, there are some physical requirements, but people who have lost a hand for whatever reason are eligible.
These recipients are the reason Carol feels such passion and even joy about this work. As a doctor and community activist, she had many positive experiences and strong connections with her patients. "This is different." she says, "It has been life changing because the rewards for me are so immediate. To see someone get a new hand and be able to feed themselves is just unlike anything I've ever experienced."
The benefits of receiving a prosthetic hand extend far beyond the physical applications, however. Many of the recipients were adult men who felt a deep shame at becoming dependent on their families. Carol remembers one man looking up after his hand had been fitted and saying, "I can now walk into a room like a gentlemen with two arms."
Another man who received a hand spent the whole first night writing. In the morning, when he showed his children what he had written, they reassured him that his handwriting looked just the same. A young woman, maimed for political reasons, was finally able to bathe her baby herself for the first time.
Many of the recipients now feel that they have a future. One remarkable young man, a university student, lost his hand when a tear gas bomb exploded. He has now returned to school and will graduate this year in graphic arts.
These kinds of successes are the foundation of the project's vision. Current users of the prosthetic hands are showing others new ways to utilize them, including tying their own shoes. Carol receives regular e-mails from people she now considers friends, letting her know how much a new hand has changed their lives.
Future trips to Africa are planned as the permanent molds for the hands become available and they can be mass-produced. Carol plans to be a part of that future and continue her commitment to being able to — give a hand.