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New Parkland Hospital program helps amputees regain their independence

It’s a celebration of personal independence this July 4th for the first patient of Parkland Health’s newly launched prosthetics program.

When Victor Velazquez Espinoza of Dallas lost his lower left leg due to diabetes complications, he was forced to use a wheelchair. But now he has a new prosthesis, has completed his physical therapy and is now walking without an assistive device for the first time in more than a year.

“He must have asked at least three or four times, ‘Who can I thank? Do you have a card for where this money came from? I’d like to reach out to them,” remembers Sahil Shah, Parkland Certified Prosthetist Orthotist. “It was very touching to see that. He was very, very grateful.”

Since Shah witnessed Velazquez’s gratitude up close during the 58-year-old Dallas man’s fitting this year, three additional Parkland patients have also received a below-the-knee prosthesis and are now in physical therapy learning to walk on two feet again. Two more patients have also been approved for the program.

The answer to Velazquez’s question of whom to thank is rather simple. The Junior Charity League of Dallas has contributed nearly $3 million to support Parkland patients with physical rehabilitation needs over the last 50 years and is making the new prosthetics program possible.

The path to the program’s creation, however, is much more complicated and began in the historic Texas ice storm of 2021. When Texas froze over, Parkland providers saw more than two dozen people experiencing homelessness who had frostbite injuries. Most of them, however, would decline treatment and accept the risk of infection and further serious injury in order to keep their mobility: their leg.

With this healthcare inequity uncovered and knowing that many low-income patients could not afford prosthetics, Parkland leadership got to work.

“One of the things I love about Parkland is that we have a ‘can do’ attitude,” said Roberto de la Cruz, MD, Parkland Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer. “So, we decided to try to find an opportunity to be able to manufacture prosthetics for some of our Parkland patients.”

When the Parkland Health Foundation described the need to the Junior Charity League of Dallas, JCL stepped up with contributions allowing low-income amputees to walk again. The funding allows Parkland to manufacture below-the-knee prostheses on-site and pays for the patient’s necessary physical rehabilitation after fitting.

Previously, Parkland patients who needed a prosthesis but had no funding had no other option unless they were selected by various charity programs in the community for support. These programs require a lengthy application process that can be difficult for many patients to navigate.

“For us to be able to have this program here at Parkland and for our patients to be able to have access to this program is tremendous,” said Shah. “When a patient receives a prosthetic, their face lights up, they look at themselves in the mirror and they’re standing again. They have a sense of confidence, a sense of pride that this is the beginning of the rest of their life.”

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