Climbing for ROMP 2016

Climbing for ROMP 2016

As many of you have probably seen, this weekend I climbed a 19,000 ft. volcano with a bunch of amputees. I did this as part of Climbing for ROMP, ROMP’s largest annual fundraiser. C4ROMP is a worldwide affair with supporters raising money and completing solidarity climbs all over the world, but I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the main expedition in Ecuador. Our incredible team featured four amputee climbers (one who lost her leg in the Boston Marathon bombing) and eight members in total.

Our adventure began on Friday as we made our way up to the Cayambe Coca refuge. This turned out to be no easy task as the road was in terrible condition and the four wheel drive wouldn’t engage on one of our vehicles. After being stranded half way to the refuge for a little while, the refuge-keeper picked us up in his pickup and we rode in the back the rest of the way up the mountain. By this time, the sun was beginning to set so we saw some incredible views on our way up that we would have missed had the four wheel drive been working!

Friday night we had dinner at the refuge and went around the table discussing what we were excited about and thankful for in regards to our weekend. After dinner, we enjoyed some tea around the fire and went to bed. Saturday morning we woke up promptly and donned our mountain gear so that we could practice glacier climbing techniques. Our guide, Nico, did a fantastic job helping us practice walking with crampons and self-arrest with our ice picks. After our short glacier hike, we relaxed for the afternoon, ate dinner and went to bed early at 6:00.

The real fun began around 10:30 later that night when we re-awoke and geared up to climb the mountain. Everyone met outside the refuge at midnight and we began our climb after an inspirational speech from Karl Egloff, one of our guides and the speed climbing record holder for Kilimanjaro. The first four hours of the climb went relatively smoothly. It was a beautiful night with clear skies and little wind, so climbing our way through rocky areas up to the glacier wasn’t too much of a problem. However, about four hours in, things became difficult. The trail became much steeper, the air got colder, we started feeling the altitude, and the wind picked up. The next two and a half hours to the summit were brutal. After we got back we realized the only reason we kept going was because the other team members kept going and we were too exhausted to talk to realize we were all struggling. We reached the summit of Cayambe around 6:15, right as the sun was rising and it was breathtaking. Seeing the view and knowing the incredible feat we just accomplished made the pain of the climb so worth it. We took a few pictures at the summit then began our uneventful descent.


This was hands-down one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had here in Ecuador. First, the mountain itself was incredible. We truly were blessed to have a day with perfect weather. Standing at the summit and watching the sun rise over almost all of the country of Ecuador was a breathtakingly beautiful moment. Second, the strength, both physically and mentally that I found within myself while climbing the mountain surprised me. It’s amazing what we are able to accomplish when we are motivated by causes and people outside of ourselves. Finally, climbing with the team that we had was such a pleasure. Jaime, an amputee climber that I was tethered to a guide with for the whole hike blew me away with his strength and friendliness. Kathy, another amputee who lost her leg to cancer climbed on despite being sick the day before and made mind-blowing progress up the mountain. Adrianne, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, also made it shockingly high up the mountain with very limited acclimation time. Finally, Dave, Pat, Greg, and Collin contributed their previous mountain experience and lots of fun times. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to celebrate mobility with these people. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my last weekend in Ecuador.

This week, I’m wrapping up my official Duke Engage project. Overall, it’s been a great success. Between Collin and I, we successfully built and tested three different hands, set up a cloud print system (still working out the bugs), designed a dressing device for a guy our age who lost both of his arms, and designed a process to make cheap prosthetic liners here in Ecuador. It is my hope and prayer that our work has been valuable and that it will make a lasting difference for lots of patients.



Project Progress

Yesterday was one of the most fulfilling days I’ve had with ROMP. That’s saying a lot because there have also been countless other days where I’ve seen and been a part of ROMP doing amazing things to restore mobility (fitting an ankle on the leg of a dancer, helping assemble an entire arm for a guy my age who lost both of his, mountain climbing with amputees, to name a few). Shockingly, yesterday’s experience didn’t even involve amputees. Yet.

Yesterday I went back to school a little early. I spent the day with two mechatronics students at la Escuela Politécnica del Éjercito in the lab. Our goal for the morning was to quantify forces that different prosthetic hands could handle. We tested three different hands: the Victoria Hand which is a complex hand designed by a University of Toronto team, the Hackberry Hand which is an open-source electronic design, and the FlexyHand which is another open-source hand that is printed using flexible, rubbery material. Each of the hands were subjected to ten tests. I designed the test protocol to reflect the kinds of forces the hands would be exposed to in everyday life. The tests simulated activities like lifting a grocery bag, pushing a button, and grasping various objects. We also included a few punch, slap, and chop tests, just to see what the hands were capable of.

At 7:00 AM (early for Ecuador) I met the two students and we bussed to their university. It was interesting to compare ESPE with Duke. You’d be surprised by the similarities after you look past surface level. We got to the lab and the technician got us set up. We began the tests and I became very appreciative that we had four people there as we had to have one or two people manipulate the hands, one person take pictures, and one person take readings. It was interesting trying to communicate complex physics words without being able to say them in Spanish. I learned a lot.


I have yet to analyze the data, but these tests will definitely give us valuable insight. I was surprised both by what hands could do and what they couldn’t. This information will be invaluable to our continuing R&D on the hands and will definitely be of use to clinical trial patients that will be testing the Victoria Hand soon.

Adding to yesterday’s fun, Collin figured out how to set up the camera for the cloud 3D printing service I’ve been working on setting up. This means it’s fully functional and can be used to enable ROMP to do some amazing things with remote treatment.

Next weekend, Collin and I embark on the annual climbing for ROMP excursion. The goal is for our team of amputee and non-amputee climbers to summit Cayambe. We can’t wait! Later this week I’ll post a link for you to donate to ROMP in solidarity with our climb if you’ve been inspired by ROMP’s work.

Also, I’m writing this on the beach in the Galapagos. So life is good.

Testing Time

Collin and I are continuing to advance with our projects, which is good, since we only have 3 weeks left in Quito! This week, we were back to a normal schedule of MWF in the clinic and TT in the DevLab. This has been our first week working with Pat, ROMP’s executive director who was in Guatemala filming with GoPro during our first month of the program. He’s a great guy with brilliant plans to grow ROMP as an organization.

In the clinic this week, we worked on a variety of prosthetic parts. Our main focus on Wednesday was a patient who was our age who lost both of his arms in an electrical accident. We helped Dave fit him with an arm device that he’ll be able to control using a few switches and his back flexion. On Friday, we worked with a girl who has an above the knee amputation and needed us to add an ankle to her prosthesis so that she can do more moves as a competitive dancer. The stories of renewed mobility that we hear in the clinic are truly amazing.

Flexy finger print

In the DevLab, I focused my time this week on two projects: hooking our 3D printers up to the cloud, and preparing three different hands for lab testing next week. It was a week of frustration as the 3DprinterOS system (which was supposed to be plug-and-play) has several layers of problems that I’m still working through. Additionally, the Ultimaker printer was having a rough week, so lots of my time was spent dealing with printer issues. On the bright side, all hands should be good to go for our testing day next Wednesday. The tests we are going to conduct will enable patients to know exactly what their hand is capable of – how many grocery bags they can carry, how hard they can press a button, etc. Additionally, we’re hoping these tests will pave the way for clinical trials with one or more of the 3D printed hands. It’s exciting to see the goals of my project begin to come to fruition. Next week will be spent testing the hands and printing the next prototype of our clinic-made prosthetic liner system I’ve been designing.

View of Cotopaxi from our Illiniza hike

Our work week was capped on either end by two beautiful mountain climbs. Last Sunday we climbed Atacazo, a 14,642 ft. peak with Greg, Pat, and Kathy, an amputee climber. Today, we climbed to the refuge of Los Illinizas (15,416 ft) with Dave, Greg, and Kathy. These hikes are training for when Collin and I plan to participate in Climbing for ROMP, an event where amputee and non-amputee climbers team up to summit mountains all over the world. Collin and I are planning to go with the “flagship” team here in Quito and climb Cayambe, a glacier topped volcano 18,996 ft. tall. In addition to our fun weekends, on Wednesday we went out salsa dancing as a farewell celebration for Diana, as she left to complete her master’s degree on Thursday. I wasn’t great, but I learned a lot!

A Week in the Dev Lab

A Week in the Dev Lab

This week marks the halfway point of our time in Ecuador with ROMP. It’s crazy how fast it’s going by! Here’s an update on what we’ve been up to.

Last week, we spent every day in the Dev Lab because Dave was in Guatemala with GoPro, filming at ROMP’s location there. It was a great time to get work done on our main projects. I got most of a new Victoria hand printed and partially assembled, wrote a test protocol for the hands in English and Spanish, and spent lots of time designing, prototyping, and testing a new design for a prosthetic liner mold that will enable ROMP to cast their own liners. Collin was busy finishing up the HackBerry hand and brainstorming and designing the dressing device he’s working on.

Prototype #2 of the 3D printed liner mold

Last weekend, Collin and I took a day trip to Otavalo, a smaller town about an hour and a half north of Quito. We stopped by the artisan market that occupies the city square, then made our way out to Laguna de Cuicocha. This is another crater lake in a collapsed caldera that has two islands in the middle of it that supposedly look like guinea pigs, called “cuy” in the Ecuadorian native tongue Quichua. We took an amazing hike around the caldera then returned to Otavalo then Quito.

Overlooking Cuicocha

This week, we were back in the clinic Monday and Wednesday and I got to test and refine the design of the liner mold. The design we’re working on looks promising. During a lull in the process of creating prostheses, Collin started reorganizing part of the lab in the clinic to make our work more efficient.

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Making design modifications to the liner mold in CAD

It’s so rewarding to start seeing progress toward the goals that we set for our projects. The little successes we achieved this week by continuing manufacturing, having prototypes pass tests, and inventing novel new ways of solving a problem are driving me to make my last four weeks even better than the first.

The Premiere

The Premiere

*This was written Tuesday but I wasn’t able to post until today because our internet has been out*

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote my last blog post but I guess it’s already been a week, so here’s another update.

Last week Wednesday was the world premiere of “In Extremity,” a documentary that ROMP made in partnership with the US State Department to commemorate the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The movie documents last year’s Climbing for ROMP expedition, in which eight non-amputees and eight amputee climbers climb a series of mountains culminating with Cayambe, Ecuador’s third highest, glacier topped peak. The premiere was held at Ocho y Medio, a coffee bar and indie film theater which was filled to the brim on opening night. Hundreds of friends of ROMP, Quito community leaders, and US State Department officials came to watch. I helped serve wine to the movie goers, since Dave and the US Ambassador to Ecuador made a toast to celebrate the premiere. It was really cool getting to meet the Ambassador and other friends of ROMP.

From left to right: Me, Todd Chapman (US Ambassador to Ecuador, Duke ’83), his wife Janetta (also Duke ’83), Diana Anthony (Duke ’15 and Director of Operations for ROMP), and Collin.

As for the movie itself, what an incredible story! The documentary began by showing the quirks and struggles the team had to work out as they progressed through their acclimation climbs. Finally, the team made it to Cayambe, but didn’t reach the summit due to poor conditions. Despite this, the entire movie was clearly focused on celebrating the power that comes to people when they have access to the right technology. Watching the documentary made me realize how much I take my own mobility for granted. It also helped me understand the reason for ROMP – that amputees are not disabled by a missing limb, but rather by a missing prosthesis. As I watched people in the theater tearing up at the end of the film, I saw once again the human need for mobility.

Thursday and Friday, Collin and I were back in the clinic. Thursday, we helped fit knee-ankle-foot orthoses on a man who was paralyzed from the waist down. These should help him be able to stand, which can hopefully improve his circulation and morale. Friday, we assisted with the fitting of a 3D printed socket for a development project that Diana is working on with some university students who are building a myoelectric hand for one of their professors. The socket didn’t end up fitting perfectly, but we learned some valuable lessons about how to improve the modification process.

3D printed prosthetic Victoria hand I’ve been working on

We spent this past weekend in Baños, a city a few hours from Quito that has every adventure opportunity you could possibly imagine. Collin and I enjoyed mountain biking along La Ruta de las Cascadas, a road that brought us past countless, massive waterfalls. The last one was the Devils Cauldron, which was one of the most powerful forces of nature I’ve ever seen. Sunday, we went canyoning, an adventure sport where you repel down waterfalls in the jungle. This was a blast but we’re all pretty bruised from the last waterfall which we attempted to slide down. The guide steered us wrong on how to approach that one!

Mountian biking through the Andes with the GoPro in Baños

This week, Collin and I will be spending all our time in the DevLab, since Dave, the prosthetist at Proteús is at ROMP’s Guatemala location helping GoPro film ROMP activities there for a GoPro documentary. Lots of exciting projects should be complete by the end of the week, so I’ll have lots to share in my next post!




Sorry it’s been a while. Life has been busy!

First, an update on our work. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we continue to work in the O&P fabrication lab at Proteus. Our days are filled with tasks that result in completed orthoses and prostheses. We’ve observed measurements, scanning, and casting of patients and have participated in mold filling, modification, thermoforming, cutting, grinding, and assembling prostheses. The work is fun and rewarding since we get to see the process from start to finish. We also have had the opportunity to meet some of the patients and hear what they have to say.

Tuesdays and Thursdays we spend in the ROMP Development Lab. This is ROMP’s maker space where they do innovative problem solving to bring more O&P care to people who need it most. It’s a tiny office, but some amazing work comes out of it. Last week, Collin and I finalized and submitted project proposals that outline which ROMP projects we will specifically be working  on while we are here. Collin will be designing improvements to a “dressing tree” that allows someone who has had both arms amputated to dress themselves. I will be conducting a comparative study of different 3D printed hand models that ROMP is working on. The three hands: FlexyHand, Victoria Hand, and HackBerry can be used for different purposes, but ROMP needs to collect data about how to match patients with the best hand to meet their goals, how much the hands can do, and how to most efficiently manufacture each type.

Outside of our work, we’ve had another week of incredible experiences. Saturday, we climbed three peaks that are near Quito: Wawa Pichincha (15,696 ft), Padre Encantado, and Rucu Pichincha (15,413 ft). We climbed with Greg and Diana, our housemates, as well as Becca, a visiting ROMP volunteer, and Kathy, an enthusiastic ROMP patient who climbs with a prosthetic foot. Coming from an elevation of 600 ft, the climbs were tough for me but we submitted all three peaks and rode back down to Quito on a cable car line called the Teleferico. One of the highlights of the day was finding a herd of wild horses in a valley between two of the peaks.


Sunday, I woke up early and traveled with a friend of our housemates to Quilotoa, a water-filled caldera a few hours south of Quito. We met a couple from England on our way and spent the day with them, hiking, kayaking the bright green crater lake, and enjoying an almuerzo.


It has been fun to meet so many unique people that start as total strangers. Sharing stories and perspectives with these surprise acquaintances like the fellow students we met on my birthday, Mariel (my Quilotoa travel companion), or Tom and Kate from England is so rewarding! Further proof that travel is all about who you’re with.

The First Few Days

The First Few Days

Quito is so interesting. I love living here.

First, a status update:

We arrived safe and sound Wednesday night and got settled into our apartment. We have now adapted to the noise of the city and not being able to flush toilet paper.

Thursday, we ran a few errands, ate at an excellent breakfast nook that is owned by the friend of one of the people we are staying with, and then began learning about our work. First, we got lunch with David Krupa, one of the founders of ROMP, whose prosthetic clinic we will be working at Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. After this, we went to ROMP’s office and Diana, Operations Officer at ROMP, explained what tasks we’d be working on there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After this, I got to work fixing a 3D printer.

On Friday, we worked in Proteús, Dave’s clinic. We had the opportunity to work with the lab tech there actually building prostheses and orthoses. I really look forward to doing more work in the clinic! At the end of the day, we got to interact with a patient who is about to climb K2 and needed some tune ups to his foot prostheses. His willpower and expertise with mountain climbing prove he is a really amazing guy!

A knee-ankle-foot I helped build

Saturday, we took a bus to Mitad del Mundo, the equator (literally translated middle of the world). After this we explored the centro historico in Quito which is a beautiful and well-preserved historic center. At night we went out to watch the Ecuador vs. Brazil soccer game and celebrate my birthday. We met some other English speakers from Australia and the Netherlands. It was so fun to talk to them about what they’ve been doing in Quito and how it compares to where they’re from. I learned that the girls from the Netherlands go to university not far from the city of Steenwijk!

El Centro Historico

Today, we went to an English speaking church in the morning, then went to Parque Metropolitano Guangüiltagua. The hike we went on was beautiful. This park is about twice the size of central park and overlooks Quito and the surrounding areas. We were on a quest to find a herd of llamas that wanders through the park but we were unsuccessful. After this, I went to Parque la Carolina, where I’m writing this post. It is so full of life!

Things I see:

  • paddle boats filled with families making their way around the canal
  • a woman in a wheelchair on oxygen watching the boaters and soaking up some sun
  • parents buying all sorts of food for their children from entrepreneurial street vendors
  • kids climbing on a “Quito” sign
  • people doing crazy bike tricks in a half-pipe for an audience of over a hundred people
  • three guys practicing their breakdancing
  • a couple doing two person yoga
  • tons of kids playing soccer

Things I hear:

  • paddling on the canal
  • a concert in a different area of the park
  • a screaming baby who just got wet in the canal
  • a yapping dog
  • various bird noises
  • bicycle bells
  • a guitar
  • people everywhere talking

This sensory overload has me pondering a phrase that seems to be the motto of Ecuador: “Ecuador ama la vida” or “Ecuador loves life.” From what I’ve seen, this is so true! There are people everywhere that are living and loving life. This afternoon in the park, no one is disengaged, everything is crazy and chaotic and joyful. I think we can learn something from this. I think that lots of times I confuse relaxing and laziness. We need time to relax, but that time need not be lazy. That time should be spent loving life! Here’s to mas amor por la vida!

Parque la Carolina