An African boy born without a fibula is walking, running and playing soccer today because of a chance meeting in an airport nearly a year ago.
The boy named Pride, now 6 years old, is visiting Spokane this month with his father, Fredrick Mafira, who is learning to evaluate, fabricate and care for his son’s new prosthesis.
“This was like a miracle to me,” said Mafira, of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, a religious man who believes that big miracles often come from smaller ones.
Pride’s miracle began when a friend brought the Mafira family a sack of cornmeal last year. After losing his job as the manager of a fruit and vegetable warehouse, Mafira had trouble providing food for his wife, Faustinah; his daughter, Princess, 8; and sons Pride and Praise, 11.
On his way back from church, Mafira stopped by the Victoria Falls airport to thank his friend, an immigration official. His friend was not there, but when Mafira turned away from the counter he saw a tourist wearing shorts that revealed a prosthesis below the man’s knee.
It was Jim Cahill, vice president of Thompson Custom Orthotics and Prosthetics, who was on safari in Africa with his wife, Stacey. Mafira worked up the nerve to ask Cahill where he obtained the prosthesis, and this led to a friendship that continues today.
Cahill’s own leg was amputated below the knee at age 23 after an anchor line accident while he was in the U.S. Coast Guard. But unlike Cahill’s high-tech prosthesis, Pride’s plastic leg could barely support the boy, who could walk only using crutches.
Born with fibular hemimelia, the congenital absence of the bone in his right calf, Pride’s leg was amputated when he was a year old.
Cahill took an old prosthesis of Pride’s home to Spokane and used it to craft a new one of carbon fiber and titanium with a flex foot donated by Ossur North America that allowed the boy to walk and run without crutches. For the past 10 months, Thompson Custom has been sending tools and supplies to maintain the prosthesis as Pride grows, but Cahill wanted to do more.
“I wanted to help them longer-term than just sending them a single prosthesis,” he said.
So last week, about the time Pride was due a new device, the Cahills flew the father and son to Spokane, where Mafira is training in orthotics and prosthetics.
“Not only would this take care of Pride’s long-term need for care, but would also give Fredrick a skill that he could possibly build into an occupation when he returns to Zimbabwe,” Cahill said.
After about 10 days, Mafira was able to fabricate the prosthesis his son wore on Wednesday. There is much more to learn, including what techniques and materials are used in Zimbabwe. Cahill said the point is to provide him with components and training for prosthetics that are reproducible in his own country.
There also is uncertainty whether Mafira will be able to produce the capital to match his new skill. To that end, he also hopes to start up a juice business with a partner back in Zimbabwe.
“It will come down to money,” Cahill said. “Will he be able to keep this going?”