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'Able to give people their lives back': Mercer students create prosthetics for amputees in Vietnam

Craig McMahan, the director of Mercer on Mission, says that there are 100,000 amputees in Vietnam. He says their program has fitted nearly 17,000 amputees there

MACON, Ga. — Mercer on Mission's prosthetics program is one of the world's leading providers of prosthetic device. That's according to Craig McMahan, the University Minister and Dean of Chapel who oversees the program.

McMahan says that there are 100,000 amputees in Vietnam. He says their program has fitted nearly 17,000 amputees there with prosthetics.

Jania Williams is one of the 35 to 40 students who will attend the mission trip this year

"This is kind of my first step to learning about everything about fitting a prosthetic. Also, just being able to make connections with people, understand them as a person instead of just a patient," Williams said.

She says her interest is in rehabilitation engineering.

"Sitting in the classroom, you do understand the concepts, but being able to talk to someone and then see the difference you make in their life is a really big highlight in this program," Williams said. 

 "Story after story, we're able to give people their lives back," McMahan said. 

Craig McMahan says the mission program began back in 2009 when Dr. Ha Van Vo, Distinguished University Professor of Biomedical Engineering, realized a dream.

As a young boy growing up in South Vietnam after the Vietnam War, he hoped to someday make a difference for his fellow citizens who lost limbs primarily from unexploded landmines left behind.

"On a large scale, there's 100,000 amputees in Vietnam. Most of those, about 80%, are from landmines. Still, 2,000 people a year are stepping on live landmines today," McMahan said.  

Dr. Vo went on to found the program alongside McMahan. McMahan says it gives students the experience of exercising their medical skills while serving others. 

Ivan Silva, a student from Bogota, Colombia working in mechanical engineering, says he hopes the Mercer on Mission program can spread to other places like his home country. 

"It could be huge and make an actual impact in Colombia. As I was working in prosthetics, this is like the drop that told me, 'You have to be here,'" Silva said.

This year because of COVID-19 restrictions, they are traveling to Cambodia. Usually, they're located in Vietnam, but McMahan says their hope for the future is to expand their geographical outreach. 

McMahan says the combination of education, experience, and opportunity come together to make this a life-changing experience for everyone involved. 

The students leave for Cambodia Saturday.

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