As an amputee, the acceptance and support that 26-year-old David Krupa received while growing up in Forest Park helped inspire him to assist others with similar conditions. As the director of the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), Krupa provides prosthetics to the citizens of Zacapa, a town of 50,000 in a remote region of the Latin American country.
Though he helps dozens of poor and disabled people lead more normal lives, Krupa will never forget his first trip to the sultry nation.
Krupa was born with a condition that necessitated the amputation of his left foot and during his first trip to Guatemala, he was amazed to see a 12-year-old girl who suffered from the same rare birth defect.
“Her life mirrored mine,” Krupa said. “We amputated her foot, fitted her with a prosthetic and opened up her world.”
When Krupa was growing up in Forest Park, no one gave him a hard time about his prosthetic leg. If someone asked him about it at the pool, he would give the usual shark attack, or land mine explanation. In elementary school and during his days at Fenwick High School, Krupa was encouraged to play sports. He enjoyed football, soccer and swimming and wrestled in high school.
“I always felt invited and included,” Krupa said. “It’s sad to not see that in other places.”
Those “other places” would include the poverty stricken towns and villages of Latin America, where amputees are often shunned by society, Krupa said. As the director of the ROMP program, Krupa is able to give amputees a chance to lead productive lives when they might otherwise languish in poverty.
ROMP provides prosthetics to the poorest people in the least-served areas. The artificial limbs serve as simple solutions to severe problems. ROMP uses recycled parts from used prosthetics to help these young amputees lead productive lives.
“In the U.S., amputations often result from geriatric diseases,” Krupa said. “In Guatemala, it’s a young person’s disease.”
As a boy, Krupa received medical care from Shriner’s Hospital for Children and was fitted with prosthetics from Scheck & Siress, in Oak Park. This company was instrumental in the start-up of ROMP. The company has provided equipment, expertise and storage space for the project.
Eric Neufeld is the president of ROMP and a Scheck & Siress employee. Neufeld, like Krupa, is prosthetist who graduated from Northwestern University. The two met in 2003 and established their non-profit program in collaboration with other aid organizations in Guatemala.
Their principal partner is a physicians group from Indiana called Hearts In Motion. This group has provided health care to the people of Zacapa for the past 25 years and worked with Scheck & Siress to supply prosthetics.
Donated parts enable ROMP to outfit amputees with prosthetics for $300 when it would normally cost between $5,000 and $20,000. Krupa is the only full-time employee of ROMP, which has an annual operating budget of $50,000.
“These parts are worth thousands of dollars,” Krupa said. “We break them down and fit them to new patients.”
One of Krupa’s boyhood friends, Lucius Baker recently volunteered for ROMP and said the program is changing people’s lives. Baker remembers how Krupa overcame his disability and served as an inspiration to others. But Baker said he was blown away by the work ROMP is doing in Zacapa.
“The clinic is very well organized,” Baker said. “The people are very appreciative. They can’t afford a regular doctor, or hospital. For them, Dave’s a godsend.”
Baker helped sort inventory and also had a chance to see Krupa apply his engineering skills in the construction of prosthetics.
“I was very impressed,” Baker said. “To see patients walk again, to move their arms, to look ‘normal’–it was amazing. It’s hard to save the world but Dave shows you can touch a lot of people in small but important ways.”
Krupa lives year-round in Guatemala and welcomes volunteer groups every two months. He will host another volunteer group in October. He has received financial support from Forest Park National Bank, local bar owners and high school students.
ROMP also offers an Amputee Sponsorship Program to the public, which allows donors to provide a prosthetic limb to a patient for $300. In return, the program provides the donor with updates of the patient’s progress.