From Mongolia to America, Part III

By Shebana Coelho

Amaglan Donid, a 59-year-old Mongolian language teacher with a transtibial amputation, traveled to the United States in January 2009 to receive a new, custom-fitted prosthesis, courtesy of the Barr Foundation Amputee Assistance Fund, Carey Glass, CPO, LPO, FAAOP, and caring individuals in Mongolia and the United States. To conclude our three-part series chronicling her journey to the United States, Amaglan—now back in Mongolia—shares some of her thoughts about her experience.

Photographs courtesy of Amaglan Donid (pictured above).

Q: You've been back in Mongolia with your new prosthesis for over a month. Physically, how do you feel?

A: Physically, I feel very good. I'm still getting used to the new prosthesis.

Q: Emotionally, how do you feel?

A: Emotionally, I feel great. So many things contributed to this. I stayed with a wonderful family in the United States. They took such good care of me. Also, they cooked amazing food—very healthy and hearty. I used to have stomach problems—maybe because I rarely varied my diet in Mongolia. But when I was there and since I've been back, my stomach problems are rare. More importantly though, my spirits are so high. You know, the accident in which I lost my leg happened almost ten years ago, and its effects were more than just physical. My mind slowed down. I was often absent-minded, forgetful. Now it feels like my mind has woken up. In the United States, I was taken care of, fed well, slept a lot. All this counts as treatment too, you know, and because of that, it improved not just my leg but my entire being. This makes me very happy.

Q: Describe your typical day in Ulaanbaatar (UB).

A: Usually, I get up at 6 a.m. and do exercises and stretches until 9 a.m. After that, I'll make breakfast and do housework. Depending on my schedule and classes, I'll go to school and teach. I also love to walk. Sometimes I'll go out walking for one to two hours.

Q: How has it been to engage in these typical activities with your new prosthesis?

A: It's a strange feeling to do old things with something new. My old prosthesis was very loose, and I used a lot of socks in the socket. This one holds my stump tighter, and I feel the pressure, which is a new feeling.

Q: Describe the process of getting accustomed to this new prosthesis. How does it compare to the old prosthesis?

A: My old prosthesis had really deteriorated. The foot kept breaking, and I was in pain. It was something I understood, and I had learned to cope with it. I am really so happy for this new prosthesis; it's such fine quality. I thought it would be easier to get used to it. But it's a process, isn't it? My body and my mind are taking time to get accustomed to it.

Q: What are your options for treatment in Ulaanbaatar if you have a problem with the prosthesis or your residual limb?

A: Such a good-quality prosthesis requires a quality prosthetist, and I'm looking for one in UB right now. But I've also been in touch with Carey Glass through my student [who helped arrange treatment in the United States] and given him an update. We can also arrange, if it's necessary, for him to "see" me using Skype and a webcam. Most of the Internet centers here have webcams. Or, I can go the house of someone who has a computer and Internet, as I don't.

Q: How have your friends and family reacted to the new prosthesis?

A: My friends and family are incredibly happy. They think I'm the luckiest, most graced person. That's what they say to me: "Can you believe that this happened to you?"

Q: You went from a remote part of the world to the United States, where you spent over a month and a half during the treatment process. What advice do you have for other patients in your position who have to make a sudden cultural adjustment to receive treatment?

A: Yes, it's true, I came from a very remote place. My student really helped to prepare me. I asked many questions about everything, so it wasn't as difficult as it would have been if I were alone. My advice is you need to make sure you have information about the place you are going, what your options are for food, for getting around, [and] where you will stay. Ask many questions. And if you don't speak the language, for sure, you need a translator. I had my student, who speaks Mongolian and English. Basically, you really need to have people in place there who are going to help you, like I did with my student's family. They were such great hosts that it made everything easier. Without them, everything would have been too much of a shock to the system.

You need to make sure you have enough money. That, of course, is the biggest thing. I was incredibly lucky to have had so much help with donations. Then, after that, the two biggest things are...preparing your body and...preparing your mind. For at least four or five months before leaving Mongolia, I started exercising, taking care of my body, watching what I ate, making sure I was as healthy as I could get myself before I arrived. When I got to America, I wanted the only problem I had to be around my prosthesis—nothing extra.

But then you also have to prepare your mind, your feelings, and your outlook so you can be ready to adjust. You have to anticipate all the things that will be different—the weather, the roads, the way people dress, the general character or personality of a new country. You have to be prepared to understand differences. You should have a positive attitude that you can do it, you can adapt—this will make a difference not only to your experience but also to the success of whatever treatment that you are getting. It's really important to stay positive, to tell yourself that anything is possible—because it is.

Q: How has having a new prosthesis affected your view of the future?

A: My view of the future has completely changed. This is directly a function of coming to the United States for this treatment, and, along the way, being exposed to so much newness and understanding so many new things. Change can really revive the mind. Here, I have a new, amazing-quality prosthesis that will not keep breaking as the old one did. It motivates me to want to live to be a hundred years old so I can have use of the prosthesis and do it justice. Isn't it a remarkable thing? I feel so young at heart. I want to thank every individual who helped me—my student, the Barr Foundation, Carey Glass, everyone in his office, all the companies who donated components [Ohio Willow Wood, Mt. Sterling, Ohio; Fillauer LLC, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Knit Rite, Kansas City, Kansas; Juzo USA, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio], and The O&P EDGE for its donation and for telling my story.

Having such a thing happen to me makes me want to do good in the world—to live a life where I make the best of all my chances. I hope everyone I met will remember me well. I certainly will never forget them.

Shebana Coelho is a writer and documentary producer. For more information about her work, visit nomadicencounters.blogspot.com

For more information about the Barr Foundation, visit www.oandp.com/resources/organizations/barr

Editor's note: To read parts one and two of this three-part series, visit the O&P EDGE archives.