Happy Birthday, ROMP! We turned 14 years old today MAY 24th, and my goodness, we’ve come a long way!

Our founders, Eric Neufeld, David Krupa, and Josh Kaplan started the Range of Motion Project with the vision to provide high quality prosthetic care to those without access. Little did they know how much of an impact it would make. More than 3,400 devices, two bustling clinics open full-time, three storage facilities full of donated prosthetic components and sponsor gear, nine volunteer programs a year, and 14 years later… here we are!

In a 2005 proposal to O&P company Scheck & Siress to build a Guatemala clinic building, our founders wrote “E. Neufeld has lab construction experience and D. Krupa has experience stocking and streamlining lab operations in Haiti and Quito.  ROMP’s role is to assist in design, secure donated equipment, outline a model of self-sustainability and facilitate staffing of this new clinic. Duration of this project is 5 weekdays for initial assessment. Total project duration is unknown.

 Maybe it was unknown at the time but since then, ROMP has had over 9,250 patient visits, delivered over 3,400 devices and raised more than $10.2 million in fundraising and value of in-kind donations!

Over the years, we’ve taken big strides in changing the face of healthcare and innovation in the prosthetics field: ROMP operates the largest prosthetic component recycling program in the world, 3D-prints prosthetic sockets from recycled plastic, collaborates with companies to fit patients with affordable myoelectric prosthesis technology (watch our partnership with Psyonic in Episode 4 of the inspirational Amazon Prime series, MAKE IT WORK), advocates for funding and quality care for amputees (read about ROMP’s trip to D.C. with the Amputee Coalition), and has summitted more than 125 mountains worldwide to benefit our patients.

We’ve accomplished so much more, and have a wonderful community of staff, donors, volunteers, and supporters to thank for every single patient we’ve helped since 2005. In honor of our birthday month, our founders reminisce about ROMP’s beginnings and what’s ahead:

What were the early years of ROMP like?

Dave: Full of hope and excitement. There was energy in the air. We were all so passionate about what we were doing and believed that we really could change the world. We were all having so much fun. I don’t remember sleeping much. Most days after work I’d head to Eric’s apartment in Bucktown, Chicago and we’d set up work stations on opposite sides of his table. “Dueling laptops,” we’d say. We’d write proposals, blast off dozens of e-mails, request equipment donations, pour over edits of the original website, and dream. Once we committed to set up a prosthetic clinic in Zacapa, Guatemala things got real very fast. The whole idea went from brainstorming sessions and late night collaborations to delivering prosthetic care in rural Guatemala.

Eric: Scrappy and fun! We were just beginning to understand what we were doing and where we were. Dave and I were working tirelessly to get some traction, funding, and support to begin to build the organization. We stayed up every night in Chicago working on ROMP after work and traded off going to Zacapa with small groups to open a clinic. There was a ton of improvising, a ton of learning, and so much fun. 

Josh: To put it simply, fun. We were working out of our houses, meeting regularly, planning out how to build this thing. The idea and concept has always been straightforward; give a person a limb and they will have a more productive life via mobility. We were just figuring everything out from sourcing the prosthetics to figuring out who our patients were actually going to be. Personally, I knew nothing about prosthetics prior to Neuf (Eric Neufeld) approaching me about the idea. I was tasked with figuring out how to set up the 501c3 since I was the lawyer. When I told the guys that they needed three directors, they immediately told me I would be the third (whether I wanted to be or not!).

What was a breakthrough moment when you knew ROMP was going to make an impact?

Dave: There are two: 1. When Eric, Josh, and I first met to discuss the idea, there was chemistry. We were all on the same page and were filled with such passion, dedication, and a belief that what we were attempting had a bigger purpose beyond any of us as individuals. One thing after another fell into place and even though in the beginning we weren’t sure how we’d make an impact, we knew that we would. 2. Meeting my first patient Thelma in Guatemala in October 2005 was a defining moment. She was born with the same birth defect I was born with, and she was 11 years old. 

She was getting around on crutches, her right leg dangling uselessly in the air. The orthopedic surgeon Dr. O’Halloran and I convinced her to amputate the foot and we promised to make her a prosthesis so that she could walk as soon as she healed. That moment led to my decision to later move to Latin America. I thought, “I can’t tell this kid to cut off her foot and not be around to provide prostheses for her as she grows up.”

Eric: For me the two moments were when Dave committed to moving to Guatemala, and when we built the Loren Jay Mallon Prosthetic Center. Once the LJM center was operating, you could see so much going on at once and I knew we had figured out how to deliver care. More and more patients were seeking care from ROMP and the on-site staff were developing amazing skills.

Josh: For me the first trip we made to Zacapa solidified ROMP as something I wanted to be a part of for as long as possible. There was a line of people waiting for us. I wasn’t even sure how they knew we were going to be there. We saw patients that made their own prosthetics; patients that should have had amputations at birth but never did; patients that were just desperate for a piece of equipment that would completely change their lives for the better. I knew we were helping.

 What’s are some of the biggest differences of ROMP 14 years ago vs. now?

Dave: The biggest difference is that 14 years ago ROMP was an idea and today it is an international movement. The ROMP community started as a small group of like-minded individuals in Chicago and now includes thousands of patients and their families, hundreds of volunteers, countless donors, dedicated staff, volunteer board members, infrastructure, service providers, business models, and systems. All working in unison to generate sustainable and scalable social impact.   

Eric: There are systems and processes in place and a dedicated full-time staff paying attention and improving programs and the organization as a whole. ROMP operating in multiple countries is also a huge difference. Overall, the professionalization of the organization is the biggest difference.

Josh: I think simply, organization. We have systems in place. We have a team in Guatemala that is self-sufficient. We have a Board and employees. I think we all knew it would grow to this but there is no way we could have mapped it out 14 years ago.  

What is a significant/favorite ROMP memory?

Dave: I have so many, but particularly love this one because it reminds me of the power of a good idea to come to fruition in spite of the norms and the rules: Eric and Lizzy Mallon (now Lizzy Neufeld) raised a bunch of money to build the Loren Jay Mallon Prosthetic Center in Zacapa, Guatemala in honor of their late father. The problem was that we didn’t have any land to build on although there was this convenient, empty lot owned by the Zacapa Regional Hospital right next to us.

So, one day I walked over to the hospital director’s (Dr. Luna) office with a proposal. I told him, “We want to build a new prosthetic clinic on that land next to our workshop, we have the funding to do it, and here is the concept.” I showed him a rendering of the building that Eric Mallon designed. He didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely, let’s do it. I’ll give you the land no-cost, no-rent, and you can build the clinic,” he said. “Our people need the service that you are providing and I’ll make sure that you get what you need. 

 The only thing I ask is that when you start clearing the ground and cut down those trees that are in the way, make sure you do it on a Sunday when no one is around. That way when people show up for work on Monday they will already see building in process and no one will ask questions.” We shook hands on it and that next Sunday we cut down the trees and cleared the land. By Monday construction had begun, no one ever asked questions, and we’ve been providing world-class prosthetic care in partnership with the Zacapa Regional Hospital ever since.

Eric: I love thinking about the last hours of each clinic trip where the reality of what’s been accomplished settles in. It’s bittersweet and powerful following the relationships built between volunteers and patients and the local staff and leadership. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished over the course of a week. Building the first clinic with Josh and Dave is something I’ll never forget, putting action to a dream was a life lesson captured in that moment.

Josh: Definitely seeing Thelma a patient waiting in line for us in Zacapa who had the same birth abnormality as Dave but instead of being amputated at birth, she was left to grow up with it.  We brought surgeons with us on this trip and she finally had the amputation and then was later fitted for a prosthetic device. Seeing her grow up and have that chance at normalcy all because we happened to end up in Guatemala is something I”ll never forget.  

What’s the biggest piece of feedback you could give yourself 14 years ago when ROMP was just beginning?

Dave: I would tell myself not to be afraid to make the leap into Latin America. I would tell myself that it would be one of the best decisions of my life. At the time I had no idea and when I first decided to move to Guatemala I was terrified. I spent many sleepless nights anxious about all the things that could go wrong once I moved to rural Guatemala. Karen Scheeringa, one of the wisest women I know, shared a bit of that wisdom only a few weeks before my move. She said, “We human beings are experts at dreaming up all of the things that can go wrong but we can never imagine all of the things that will go right.” Knowing that earlier would have saved a lot of unnecessary suffering. Follow your heart, it knows the way.  

Eric: Don’t fear the challenges, because they never end. Instead, be grateful for the partners involved who all bring talent and leadership to the organization to solve problems, both in the U.S. and Latin America. ROMP has become something I never dreamed it to be. It has attracted the right people to help it develop and evolve due to how we have all addressed the central challenge of solving the problem of the lack of prosthetic care for amputees around the world.

Josh: Keep on it, you are helping to change lives for the better. It is easy to give up and assume other people are going to handle it. Staying involved is a must.

What gets you the most excited about ROMP’s future?

Dave: Two things: CBR and Climbing for ROMP.

  1. What Jon Naber is doing with Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) for amputees in Guatemala is miraculous. This program is a paradigm shift in the way ROMP engages with amputees. It goes far beyond prosthetic care. We are now helping people set-up business and find jobs, helping them to become mentally and emotionally healthier, connecting them with other amputees and their communities, and empowering them to better manage their own health and well-being. Mobility is more than walking, it’s breaking out of the mold that you’ve been trapped in. Mobility means social, physical, emotional, economic, and spiritual development. CBR is a scientific approach to true empowerment of the amputee and this unique ROMP program, currently operating in Guatemala, will inform similar programs in Ecuador, the U.S., and beyond.
  2. Climbing for ROMP will become the economic engine for the ROMP mission. Within no time, tens of thousands of people will be climbing for ROMP each year raising millions of dollars annually, allowing ROMP to scale and spread throughout the Americas. The mobility of the many will guarantee access to ROMP’s life-changing care for all of those who need it.

Eric: There is such an amazing dedicated staff on both an organizational level and an in-country level that are thinking of new programs, and strategies to innovate in ways I never imagined.

Josh: Climbing for ROMP. This is the culmination of a lot of years of planning and organization. It is a program that can get everyone excited and has already gone international. With the right exposure, this will be our calling-card; something that everyone has heard of at some point. With that level of exposure, ROMP will achieve exponential growth.

 

Help us celebrate our birthday by becoming a Monthly Mobility Member, and by helping us achieve our mission of mobility for all. Learn more at www.rompglobal.org/m3/.

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