The morning of 24 April 2013 seemed like any other morning to Champa. It was all bright and busy. She woke up very early in the morning, started preparing for breakfast and lunch and then left home for her work.
She worked at New Wave Bottoms, a garments factory at the second floor of Rana Plaza building in Savar, Dhaka, the collapse of which caused one of the worst disasters in the country.
Little did Champa know that it would be the last time she was leaving home on her own two feet.
At work, she suddenly heard a sound and everyone started running. She followed them. She went into the warehouse of the factory, where piles of goods were stored.
She stumbled on something and fell on the ground. She found herself stuck under cartons full of goods, while a pillar had collapsed on her right leg.\
"I tried hard to get out but could not move an inch. After a while, my right hand and leg started to become numb. Four days passed like this. When I came to my senses, I found myself in a hospital but still I could not feel my hand and leg. How could I? They had been cut off to save my life," said Champa Khatun, who is 37-years-old now.
After taking primary treatment for four long months, she was referred to Brac Limb and Brace Fitting Centre (BLBC) for a prosthetic implant. Now, she can move on her own with an artificial hand and leg and also can do all household chores.
BLBC has created such impact on around 30,000 people since 1997. It has its own workshop where these artificial braces and limbs are made. Around 13 people are working there relentlessly to support the patients. It was started as one of Brac's social enterprises by late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, when implanting artificial hands or legs were not much available in Bangladesh.
Later, Brac Bank started to contribute Tk10 lakh annually in its Poor Fund, since 2018, under its CSR project. With this contribution, BLBC treats poor people free of cost, who cannot afford the regular expenses.
"Abed sir wanted to make this treatment available for the masses, hence he had taken up this initiative as his responsibility towards people. And now, Brac Bank believes the same and continues this legacy," said Ekram Kabir, head of communications, Brac Bank.
All the patients who visit this place have not necessarily lost their limbs. These artificial limbs and brace are also used to support weakened body parts or joints. These are worn for a short time span – usually after any injury or surgery.
There are different kinds of braces and limbs, under different categories, including above knee, below knee, through elbow, and they come at different price ranges. Usually, the price of braces starts from Tk500 to Tk30,000 and a limb's price is within Tk26,000 to seven lakh takas.
Champa has visited this place around fifteen times in the last eight years. She comes here whenever she has any problems and she is always welcomed with the same warmth, she remarked. She has been treated here free of cost, yet with enough care and attention.
"I do not know how to express my heartfelt gratitude to this institute. When I learned that my wife's hand and leg would be cut off, I prayed to God that he keeps her alive at any cost. I do not know how I would have survived that disaster if BLBC did not stand by my side," stated Shamsul Haque, Champa's husband.
"I figured that the expense was around seven lakh takas and luckily I did not have to pay a single penny," he added.
Generally, BLBC charges a minimum amount of money from its patients for its imported materials and making cost. Making braces and limbs is like doing math. If the measurement is off even by a centimetre, it can spoil the whole thing.
Hence, its technicians cautiously measure each patient's organ with scales, take 3D measurement using plaster and mould, cut the sheets according to the measurements and then prepare a customised limb or the brace accordingly. But if the patient does not feel comfortable wearing those, then BLBC starts the process again and makes a new one.
To ensure quality service, Brac educates and trains up BLBC's technicians and doctors at first. They are sent abroad to training centres to attend different courses.
It has even introduced such centres at different hospitals. Inspired from this centre, a few of its technicians have founded commercial limb and brace centres.
"To make a profit, one or two centres are producing low quality products and selling it cheaply. Basically, this is a threat to the patient's health, as these contain toxic and allergic material. Since the beginning, we have worked hard to promote BLBC at the root levels," shared Shahidul Hoque Ripon, programme head of the Nutrition and Population programme at Brac.
"Hence, we have arranged workshops for doctors, created and promoted awareness so that they become keen to know about this treatment," he added.
Now, BLBC's name is known on international platforms too. In collaboration with Child Relief International and American Jewish World Service, BLBC has developed a Limb and Brace Centre in Haiti. There it has provided prosthetics and orthotics services for Haitians who were injured in the 2010 earthquake.
"After years, BLBC is now self-sufficient and also makes a little profit, which is invested back into this programme. So, in future, it wants to introduce limb and brace centres in more hospitals as its franchise, rather than opening any branch of its own," said Ripon.