Dr. Dinesh G. Patel
Dr. Patel is a recognized pioneer in arthroscopic surgery, who trained in Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard. He currently serves as Chief of Arthroscopic Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and is an Associate Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School. He has lectured extensively around the world, in India, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and Japan, and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for service and professional excellence. He was born, raised and educated in Nadiad, Gujarat, India.
C. Mead Welles
Mead co-founded ALTSO in 2002 and serves as the organization’s Chairman and Treasurer. Mead is also the Founder and CEO of Octagon Asset Management, LLC and is responsible for managing the core portfolios and determining the overall strategy of the hedge funds managed by Octagon. Mead brings to Octagon unique experience in trade and commodity finance, emerging market fixed income asset management, and emerging market structured finance. Prior to Octagon, Mead worked at Cargill Financial Services International, the internal emerging market investment and trading arm of Cargill, Inc. As one of the original members of the emerging markets trade and structured finance group, Mead focused on finding ways of using Cargill’s international trade and working capital flows to arbitrage capital markets, finance subsidiaries, mitigate risks and minimize balance sheet usage. Before Cargill, he worked in asset management for Bull & Bear Securities and for Shearson Lehman Hutton. Mead received his B.A. in Economics from Bates College in Lewiston, ME with additional studies in international business in Lugano, Switzerland.
While in Indonesia in the late 1990’s, I was eating dinner on the patio of a restaurant. I was so tired, having just spent the last two days fighting long lines at airports and customs, and lugging my baggage from hotel-to-hotel in a whirlwind business tour of four countries. I found myself thinking about how hard I thought I had it.
Then I saw 3 young boys. Two of them were pulling a rope that was tied to the lid of a garbage can. The third boy was sitting on the lid. They were begging for money. They were skinny, they were dirty and they were obviously exhausted. Suddenly I noticed that the boy being pulled had a horrifically deformed leg. It was clear that before sitting on the lid, he had been walking on his stubbed limb — it was raw and bleeding, and he couldn’t stand on it any longer. His knuckles were in the same condition, which told me he’d been pulling himself around on the lid. I sat there motionless as the three boys passed by.
I went up to my hotel room after dinner and sat on my bed. While I had been complaining to myself about how hard I thought I had it, I failed to recognize how lucky I was to have the life I did. The personal sacrifices and physical hardships I was experiencing were not only my own choice… they really were so very, very trivial.
I was paralyzed with sadness. I could only imagine the pain the crippled child had to go through every day, every minute, every second of his life. I was awed by the other two boys – impoverished beyond anything I’d ever seen – still took care of their disabled friend. And I was ashamed of myself because I could have easily taken that child to a local hospital and for under a thousand dollars, (which I could have charged on my credit card), given that child a new life… but I didn’t.
I couldn’t sit motionless any longer while children suffered horribly because they didn’t have limbs. I vowed on that day that I would never look away again and that I would devote myself to creating a vehicle to bring the resources to the need and give prosthetic arms and legs to these beautiful children without limbs. I flew home and started A Leg To Stand On in 2000.
A little Q&A with C. Mead Welles
What inspired you to start A Leg To Stand On?
My senior year in high school, I was asked by my Spanish teacher if I would accompany him to volunteer at a school for children with disabilities. I said yes, largely out of fear that if I said no, my Spanish grade would suffer. I boarded the bus begrudgingly and arrived 45 minutes later, nervous about what I was about to experience. Much to my surprise, the children, although disabled, were incredibly happy and positive. After a stint tutoring some of the children, I was asked to oversee physical education class in the gym.
The children wanted to play basketball. I divided the children in to two teams and when I blew the whistle, the children began to play. Given the various disabilities, the ball was dropped or turned over constantly. However, when a child dropped the ball or missed a shot, the other children (regardless of which team they were on), would return the ball and encourage them to try again. I had not seen this type of selfless behavior where everyone was so concerned about the happiness of the others. And it wasn’t just one or two children, all of them displayed the most incredible kindness and compassion for each other. This was a sharp contrast from the world I was used to where the competitive nature of my classmates and friends usually resulted in someone trying to undermine everyone else to get ahead.
I realized that despite what I thought was being dealt a bad hand of cards, the disabilities were actually a blessing in that it made these children more sensitive to others, more appreciative for what they did have and more kind, compassionate and happy in general. It was so touching that I felt that these children ought to be lifted up and applauded for making the best out of what other’s might consider a difficult situation. What I witnessed inspired me to start what is today A Leg To Stand On.
What do you think is the number one challenge you face serving children in need of medical treatment around the world?
I think the #1 challenge is gaining the awareness and raising the money to do the work we do.
Do you have any advice for other individuals who want to start medical programs for children with disabilities?
Yes. But first, you have to determine whether the need you are trying to address is being provided for already by another non-profit. If not, then just do it. Just be sure to not over promise and under deliver. It is not a competition and as a non-profit, no one is concerned about the amount of time you take to execute your plan. Therefore commit to doing it at your pace. It may require more than you planned on at times, but it is well worth it. Talk as openly about your idea to as many people as you can and plug away at it one step at a time. Eventually you will find someone that it resonates with or who is in a position to assist you. You don’t always need money either to help others, “elbow grease” can move mountains if you are smart about it. Be a vehicle to deliver the service. Others can help put fuel in the tank and drive. Don’t be too proud to ask for help or support. People like to volunteer for worthy causes.
Where do you see A Leg To Stand On going in the next 10 years?
Over the next 10 years, I see A Leg To Stand On developing not only in terms of its geographies and children being served, but also in terms of the scope of services and range of issues we are trying to solve for. The next phase for ALTSO is to begin addressing the roots of the disabilities focusing on issues like improved ambulatory services, pollution, water and chemical contaminants that result in congenital birth defects, and better traffic management enforcement to reduce the number of accident related amputations. Education will be another component of our growth, where we can create training programs to train medical professionals in the most cost effective and high quality services for all limb disability treatments. Cost effective scaling requires efficient processes and harnessing technology is one way to achieve this. I would like us to be able to build out a technology platform that allows us to reach any qualifying child in the world in need of help with their limbs.
What are some of the challenges you face when working in developing countries?
There are many challenges we face when working in developing countries, not the least of which are cross border regulations and political red tape. Other complicating factors include, cultural differences, climate, limited access to necessary resources, obsolete or no technology, not to mention language barriers.
What would you say is the number one need for children in developing countries?
The number one need for children in developing countries is having stable health, including mobility. With health and mobility, a child can walk to school, work, play, and even escape from danger.
Tell us about a specific success story of one of the children your program has helped and how their life changed?
A strikingly beautiful teenage Indian girl was flying a kite in a kite contest in India. The kite was made by her grandfather who used wire for the kite string. During the contest the kite blew into some electrical lines and a jolt of electricity ran down the wire and literally blew off the girl’s arms just beneath her shoulders. It also badly scorched her neck and chest resulting in burn scars on her neck, parts of her face and chest. As if the trauma and pain of the accident weren’t bad enough, the loss of her arms and scarring attracted many stares. Furthermore everything she did required having someone else help her. Eating, getting dressed, scratching her nose, going to the bathroom all required someone else’s assistance. When we gave her two articulating prosthetic arms, she started to cry and the first thing she did was to lift the prosthetic arms to hide her face, so we couldn’t see her crying. When she realized that she could in fact shield herself, the crying broke out into convulsions of tears of relief. The nurse explained that she was so happy to have renewed independence and most of all, to look normal so that she wouldn’t be starred at by children and adults on the street any longer.