Forest Park native David Krupa is a medical entrepreneur and philanthropist, living in Ecuador, who helps bring prosthetic limbs to amputees in Central America.
A lifelong amputee himself, Krupa founded the Range of Motion Project (ROMP) to create state-of-the art prosthetics and orthotic braces and give physical therapy to amputees who struggle to afford the care they need.
On April 3, Krupa was back in Illinois to receive the Charles C. Stewart International Young Humanitarian Award from the University of Illinois, his alma mater.
The award is presented to a U of I alumnus who has dedicated great time towards research and commitment at the international humanitarian level.
Born with a birth defect called pseudarthrosis of the tibia and fibula, both of the bones in Krupa's left leg were not fused together, resulting in him having an underdeveloped foot. When he was about a year and a half old, Krupa underwent an amputation surgery and received his first prosthesis before he was two.
"I grew up changing legs and going for adjustments and everything which was part of the routine," Krupa said. "Later on, it led to my interest in the field, having been around it so much."
After graduating with a BS in Biology in 2002, Krupa continued his studies in the field of prosthetics, earning a certificate in Prosthetics from Northwestern University. Krupa completed his residency in at Scheck & Siress in Oak Park, his prosthetists growing up.
In 2004, a volunteer trip to Haiti was enough to convince Krupa that working abroad would be his life's calling.
"From that point, [I] was just blown away by what I saw and just how much need there was and how the majority of the patients that I had the opportunity to meet were young, otherwise totally healthy people that were not disabled because they were missing a limb, [but] because they were missing a prosthesis," he explained.
"It was that simple. They had nothing else wrong with them."
U of I heard about Krupa's story in 2010 when a group of undergraduate engineers working on creating a low-cost, high-quality prosthetic arm contacted international foundations that had prosthetics clinics in the developing world.
Krupa worked with Illini Prosthetic Technologies to arrange for the students to do prototyping with patients in Guatemala and complete a final prosthetic design.
"They worked about a year and a half of designs on something called open-socket which they now distribute in India, parts of Africa, and Central and South America," Krupa explained.
After completing field-testing with ROMP, student engineer Jon Naber nominated Krupa for the award.
"It was a real honor!" Krupa exclaimed about his reaction to winning the award from his alma mater.
Krupa says that his patients are not fully disabled but only inconvenienced because they lack simple prosthetics that would otherwise allow for them to live normal lives.
"We believe people are disabled because they don't have access to [top] prosthetic technology. It's not that complex of an issue to tackle," Krupa said.
Krupa says that unfortunately, many of his first-time patients will come to him with the same prosthesis technologies that he had growing up. Krupa is determined to provide them with the 21st century care that they deserve. This includes making custom parts with a 3-D printer.
"There's a huge lack of access around the world," Krupa said. "[But], prosthetic technology has evolved a lot and is evolving leaps and bounds basically every year. Just because we're working in poor environments doesn't mean we need to be working with poor technology."
Krupa started ROMP in 2005 in Zampaca, Guatemala. He eventually ended up taking trips Quito, Ecuador where he saw similar needs for prosthetics. After successfully getting ROMP off the ground, Krupa moved to Quito in 2007 and opened a private prosthetics practice all while managing side ROMP projects with universities and foundations.
In 2008, Krupa married his wife, whom he met in Quito, and they have two young daughters. Krupa says he plans to stay in Ecuador for a while.
"It's a really awesome place to work. I feel like I have a lot of purpose here."
Krupa has fond memories of his youth in Forest Park and credits the town for being kind and understanding towards his disability. His fondest memories include the diversity of his 20-some classmates at St. Bernadine's Catholic School and the various cultural and religious backgrounds of his neighbors in Forest Park.
"[There was] such diversity which I think growing up around that was something that opened my eyes," he said. "I think that was a very neat part of growing up in Forest Park. I always felt very comfortable growing up with a disability. It never became an issue."
Eleanor Kraft, Krupa's former principal at St. Bernardine's, remembers Krupa as a boy who "never let his missing leg get in the way of growing up."
Krupa got an "outstanding alumni" award from the school and came back to speak to students, Kraft said. "We would always have a fundraiser, and the school families purchased a couple of prostheses [for ROMP]."
Kraft remembers Krupa as an ideal St. Bernardine student.
"We tried to preach to be kind to others and make the best use of your talents, take them and make a difference in the world," Kraft said.
"David certainly does that."