Imagine that you’ve just broken your femur and are lying immobilized with a metal pin in your broken thighbone. The pin is attached to a pulley that uses a heavy water bottle as a weight to pull the broken bone back into place. You must lie very still, over a period of months, with the risk of blood clots, pressure sores and, all too often, with little to no pain medication. You cannot work or provide for your family and when you finally do return to your life, the bone may not have aligned or knitted properly, leaving you with a permanently bent or even shortened leg.
The medical term for the procedure is skeletal traction and it is estimated that 80 per cent of femur fractures happen in developing countries. Traction, while now unheard of in Canada, is all too common in many hospitals around the world. In most cases, femur fractures are usually caused by high-impact trauma such as motorcycle accidents. Generally, the proper corrective surgery (intramedullary nailing) is either not available due to the remote environment or the patient simply cannot afford to pay for the surgery up front.
When a group of four UBC students visited Kenya and Uganda in May 2015 — a fact-finding trip made possible by the International Medical Device Initiative — they saw traction being routinely used in orthopaedic wards in the Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda and Kenya’s Nanyuki County Hospital. The experience changed them.
“I personally had never seen traction or even heard of it before,” says Georgia Grzybowski, third-year mechanical engineering student. “There was a simple pulley system using a water bottle as a weight. The whole idea that this is a reality for so many people was shocking since the method has changed very little since it was developed in the early 1900s.”
Her colleague, Blake Henderson, had a similar reaction. “It was an intense experience, more so because of having no clinical background.” Grzybowski was already trying to problem-solve in the moment. “My first thought was there is definitely something to be done about this.”
Full story at: UBC