Loss of a Limb—Could It Happen to You?
Benjamin was outside enjoying the spring sunshine that warmed the city of Sarajevo when he stepped on a land mine. His left leg was blown off. “I tried to get up,” recalled Benjamin. “I couldn’t.” Benjamin is just one of the 20,000 people a year who are killed or maimed by land mines.
ANGOLA is littered with as many as 15 million land mines—more than one for every man, woman, and child in the country. Angola now has 70,000 people who have suffered limb loss. With its eight million to ten million sown land mines, Cambodia has the highest percentage in the world of persons who have lost limbs—an estimated 1 out of every 236. Bosnia and Herzegovina reportedly contains over three million mines—152 per square mile. [59 sq km]
But it is not only in war-torn lands that people suffer limb loss. For example, there are about 400,000 sufferers of limb loss in the United States. Among most of the adults in that number, the loss of a limb is the result of a chronic condition loosely termed “peripheral vascular disease,” or PVD. This is a general term covering a number of disorders. Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defines PVD as an imprecise term covering “diseases of the arteries and veins of the extremities, esp[ecially] those conditions that interfere with adequate flow of blood to or from the extremities.” A leading cause of PVD is diabetes. According to The World Health Report 1998, “diabetes cases in adults will more than double globally from 143 million in 1997 to 300 million by 2025.”
In the United States, trauma—including accidents involving vehicles, machinery, power tools, and firearms—is the second leading cause of limb loss, accounting for 20 to 30 percent of all amputations. Other causes of limb loss include tumors (about 6 percent) and birth defects (about 4 percent).
The thought of losing a precious limb is unsettling, to say the least. Is there any way of reducing that risk? And if you have already suffered the loss of a limb, how can you enjoy a good quality of life? The following articles discuss these and other questions.