16 March 2016, Provincial Rehabilitation Centre, Luang Prabang
Mr. Somechith Keotanla, age 45, Ban Si Vilay, Nan District, Luang Prabang Province
Growing up in remote Phongsaly Province, Mr. Somechith Keotanla’s village did not have a high school. After completing secondary school, Mr. Somechith worked in his family’s rice field, but they struggled to grow enough food to eat. With few other options, Mr. Somechith joined the Armyat the age of 17 and soon found himself patrolling disputed border territories. Two years later, while heading back to base camp, Mr. Somechith stepped on a landmine. He knew immediately that he would lose his leg, but it took two agonizing days to get him to a hospital in Vientiane.
Still a teenager, Mr. Somechith became depressed and wondered how he would support himself for the rest of his life. While recovering from the amputation, Mr. Somechith formed a strong friendship with the nurse who cared for his wound. They had many happy conversations, and she convinced him that he could live a productive and full life regardless of his disability. Six months later they were married. They’ve been together for twenty years, have three children, and Mr. Somechith says they understand each other and still have many happy conversations. With a rice paddy and corn farm, the Keotanla family is financially stable, an unusual circumstance for people with disabilities in Laos. Mr. Somechith wishes he could work harder on his land, sparing his wife and children some of the backbreaking labor of farming, but he is happy that he can sometimes afford to hire help when they need it.
Mr. Somechith received his first artificial leg, a wooden one, from the Centre for Medical Rehabilitation in 1990. Over the past 26 years, he has needed 16 or 17 replacements, reflecting the normal lifespan of a prosthetic device. He is very grateful to COPE’s donorsfor providing prostheses to Lao people with disabilities. He is also very happy that the Mobile Clinic has come to Luang Prabang Province, which saves him valuable time and considerable expense.