Orthotics and Prosthetics Student Helps Bolivians Walk Again

After spending 14 days on a mission trip in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Joliet Junior College Orthotics and Prosthetics Technology (OPT) student Alisha Brennon has returned home with a new appreciation for the profession. 

JJC student Alisha Brennon with amputee that she helped walk again in Bolivia.
From the left: Elias Mamani
(volunteer), Steve Morel
(Filadelfia Center founder),
Virginia (amputee),
Alisha Brennon
Credit: Alisha Brennon

Brennon was inspired to travel to the South American country after hearing from Steve Morel of the Filadelfia Center for Prosthetics. Morel recently spoke with Professor Mike Brncick’s class about the work he was doing in Bolivia for those who could not afford functional prostheses.

Brennon knew immediately that she too could make a difference.

Six weeks later she was on a plane to Bolivia. 

The first few days of the trip were spent setting up the lab and patient room, which included making tables and bolting equipment to them. She’d already learned this process at JJC. 

“We had a chapter in our program that focused on lab setup and how to layout your lab in a way that is the most efficient and it definitely helped to set up the lab down there,” said Brennon.

The rest of Brennon’s time was spent seeing patients and taking impressions of their limbs to fit them with prostheses. 

She worked a total of 100 hours while there. 

Giving people the ability to use their limbs again was the most rewarding part of the trip, Brennon said. She specifically recalls one of the patients that had lost her leg to flesh-eating bacteria. 

“She had never been able to walk without crutches and the prosthesis she arrived to the clinic with was being held together by duct tape,” Brennon said. “I had brought some fabric down to see if maybe designs on the prostheses would be something that the patients would enjoy. She chose one of my fabrics and when we finally fit her with her final prosthesis, she looked at me and said that she finally has a pretty leg.”

The patients she helped, Brennon said, were very thankful. 

“That was the best part of the trip for me, doing something for these people, with the skills I learned, that can completely change their lives.”

Brennon was the first student to come help Morel, who runs the clinic mainly on his own. Morel has one assistant, Elias, a native Bolivian who’s passionate about helping others. But according to Brennon, Elias’ lack of schooling limits the amount of help he can provide. 

Brennon said she wants to make a yearly trip to other countries and help those that don’t have the money to afford a proper prosthesis. 

View images of Brennon's trip to Bolivia.

For more information contact Scott Harvey, communications and media coordinator, at 815-280-2844 or sharvey@jjc.edu.