Alex Dahinten, a student in Baylor’s Orthotics and Prosthetics Program in the School of Allied Health Sciences, reflects on his training experience in Ecuador, where he (nearly) ascended the country’s highest active volcano with the nonprofit Range of Motion Project, and on his decision to enter the O&P field.
How did you get involved with ROMP and the volcano climb?
I spent three months in Ecuador completing one of my residencies with the founder of ROMP, Dave Krupa, at his private, full-time clinic in Quito, Ecuador. ROMP, or the Range of Motion Project, is a non-profit healthcare organization dedicated to providing prosthetic and orthotic care to those without access to these services. The clinic where I trained is closely tied with ROMP, and at times it is difficult to distinguish between the two! As an avid outdoor person working in the O&P field, I was looking for ways to advocate and raise awareness for my patients through demonstrating mobility – climbing for ROMP was a natural fit! The timing worked out perfectly, and I ended up being selected for the team.
How were you impacted by the project in Ecuador and the people you interacted with there?
This has by far been the most inspiring and motivating experience in my O&P career. Our team was composed of more than 25 American and Ecuadorian athletes, 10 of whom have lower limb amputations. Every team member brought incredible energy and drive to the team; ultimately, we were all climbing to raise awareness for a cause that means a lot to every one of us, for slightly different reasons. We were all challenged in different ways (physically, mentally and emotionally), but managed through our struggles as a team unit. I am 100 percent convinced after this trip that mobility is limited by access to prosthetic care, rather than missing a limb.
Unfortunately, we were not able to reach the summit during our climb due to dangerous weather conditions (winds greater than 50mph and low visibility). However, on our descent, the clouds disappeared and revealed an incredible view of the surroundings which helped remind us the real reasons behind this trip. Overall, it was hugely successful and we managed to raise more than $75,000, which will translate to continued care for approximately 140 patients. Climbing for ROMP was a global initiative, with more than 35 solidarity climbs and 250 climbers organized on seven continents and 15 different countries.
What steered toward a career in O&P? How far along in your training are you?
Before O&P, I worked as a biomedical engineer for four years. More specifically, I specialized in medical equipment repair, technician education and setting up hospital infrastructure in developing countries. While helping a technician conduct an equipment inventory in Tanzania, we came across the O&P clinic, and I was immediately drawn to the immediate impact that a prosthesis had on a patient’s quality of life. After returning to the States, I sought out shadowing and tech opportunities before returning to graduate school to become a clinician.
I finished my didactic O&P curriculum and am currently in my fifth out of six residencies, each of which is three months long. I plan to graduate in December 2017.
What has your experience in the Baylor O&P program been like so far?
Baylor’s integrated residency has allowed me to mold my experience in a way that suits my specific learning objectives and exposes me to areas of the profession that residents have historically not taken part in. I felt well prepared before travelling to Ecuador, both from an experienced traveler’s perspective, as well as from an O&P clinical student perspective. Being able to hit the ground running allowed me to find ways in which to contribute immediately, in a foreign environment.
What are you career goals?
My passion lies in helping provide high-quality healthcare to individuals who are undeserved, underrepresented or who simply cannot afford care. Unfortunately, this challenge exists both in the U.S. and globally and the need is greater than ever. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all individuals requiring care live in developing countries, however only 2 percent have access to care. I strive to be a part of initiatives that are actively addressing this unbelievable access discrepancy.
How did the Baylor community get involved?
I received over $500 in donations from classmates, peers and even individuals who I had never met before. I was so moved and honored by the support that Baylor staff, students and friends extended to me. The support helped motivate us in a very real way while our team was freezing cold and dehydrated climbing a 19,000-foot volcano. Thank you BCM community!