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Pretty much since birth, I was destined to be an engineer. I mean with both my parents being engineers how could I not be. For several years, I kept denying my true calling but a medical class at my school helped me discover the field of biomedical engineering and prosthetic limbs. I knew from that point I wanted to design the next generation of cutting edge prosthetics. However this goal was drastically changed after a spring break trip.
Three years ago, my parents decided we were going to Dominica for spring break. Dominica is called the Nature Island of the Caribbean. Despite the islands outstanding beauty, it is one of the poorest island and most the people on the island do some form of subsistence farming. At the time, these facts did not interest me. I was more excited about getting my SCUBA certification. Finally we arrived on the island and I got to experience diving in the ocean. The diving was so amazing, that I never wanted to stop. But Dominica has many other things to see and do, including a Rain Forest Aerial Tram. I took a day off from diving to go on the tram and to see a couple of waterfalls. On the way back from the tram, we stopped to admire the view. While taking pictures, a red truck pulled up and dropped a man off with a machete. He said “hello” and then went to cutting down some bamboo growing nearby. I noticed that his left arm was amputated at the elbow. Later in the week, we were walking down the street to pick up some cokes, and a man was sitting outside the store selling coconuts. I noticed he was missing part of his right arm. After seeing several other men with similar injuries, I asked my parents why there was such a high number of amputees on this small island. They explained that these injures were mostly likely the result of a farming accidents.
The more I thought about those men, the more I wanted to do something to help them. For several weeks after getting back, I kept thinking about them. I began to think about getting my degree in biomedical engineering and designing prosthetics to help them. But prosthetics are expensive to design and maintain. The islanders could not even begin to afford any of the current prosthetics. The more I thought about the problem, a plan started to build in my mind. I need to stop thinking so high-tech and just focus on designing something that a local machinist could easily build and maintain. After I graduate, I want to travel to different third world countries and talk as many amputees as possible to learn what they need from a prosthetics arm. While in these countries, I would also talk to the local machinists to see what materials they can get and what tools they have access to. I would like to use this information to design prosthetic arm that are functional, and capable of being maintained and repaired with locally available skills and materials. Someday I hope to provide men like those on Dominica a chance to regain the arm they lost.