From Croatia: How Miloš’s Education Changed Robert’s Life

Robert and Miloš met at the clinical worksop where the latter works, in the course of regular orthotic treatment. Robert is a man with a physical disability caused by a disease called Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease (CMT), who needs orthotic devices to be able to walk and do his daily activities. Miloš is a medical doctor from Rijeka and a student in our educational program on the Bachelor level at the time when the two of them met.

Robert testing his orthoses at a HS seminar

When Robert first came to see me” explains Miloš, who dedicated his professional career to prosthetics and orthotics “he was a 39-year old man who could not move his body to get out of home. He could not walk further than 20 meters without feeling pain.” Up until his early teenage years, Robert was just like the other boys his age, he could run, walk and jump, but then his condition worsened. He was diagnosed with the Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease (CMT) and until he was 16, he lived his life without any assistive device. The first signs of muscle weakening in his arms appeared during Robert´s late teenage years. “At that time, I came across the ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) which I have used ever since. Then, I met dr. Miloš, who not only instilled confidence in me, but also was the only person capable of comprehending my problems in dealing with the lack of understanding from my employer, my family and my family physician.”
Miloš made first some modifications to Robert’s existing orthoses and shoes, applying the knowledge and skills he had at the time. “Robert could not extend his feet and he did not have any base support for his body. His disease was progressing.”, explains Miloš. Pushed by his frustration of not being able to provide more and better help to patients like Robert, Miloš decided to continue his education in prosthetics and orthotics with the Human Study program. He invited Robert to be his model patient in one of the practical seminars in the program. Students bring ideally their own patients to serve as model patients at the seminar, so that the lesson learned can be carried off directly to the daily work with the patient, benefiting him directly.

The practical seminar where Robert agreed to participate was taking place in Zagreb, Croatia. “When I first told Robert about this opportunity, unsurprisingly, he was reluctant. Somehow, I managed to convince him to accompany me to Zagreb. During the HS practical seminars, with the help of their internationally renowned lecturers, I learned how to help Robert, and now he is able to have a full-time job, a family and a normal life.”, Miloš says, feeling happy for Robert for the progress in treatment they were able to make.
“Robert can stand and walk for hours now, without any problems. Joy that he feared was lost to him came back into his life.” Over the years, Miloš and Robert became friends. “I am grateful that he gave me the opportunity to help him personally, but also to improve my professional skills and knowledge. I have learnt a great deal, not only about P&O, but also about the beauty of life.

Robert’s experience with this change is very emotional. He can only refer to it in poetic language explaining it as “waves of the sea“. Living in Rijeka, on the Croatian seaside, waves of the sea are his metaphor for life, for dynamic, which he was deprived of. Everything started with “a conversation, which changed the world, or worlds. It changed everything. ‘Come Robert, let us give it a try. We have nothing to lose. We could at least make the effort’, said the voice at the other end of the phone-line.” Robert writes. Robert is my name. I am 43 years old. The voice at the other end of the line was Milos Opacic (MD), my P&O clinician. ‘If this does not prove better for you, we will do it the old way, then’, he told me. That is how he convinced me. Travelling was often strenuous. There was the energy consuming school of gait to be gone through. Travelling to Zagreb, Munich…”
Robert’s life was full of obstacles, due to his health and the lack of proper treatment. “Not to mention the problems I had with finding a girlfriend. I even quit thinking about girls. Bent in form of the letter ‘G’, looking like a bundle of rope, with pains in my feet, ankles, knees, up to my head, with cramps in my muscles, exhausted, unable to stretch my leg, psychological problems I cannot even describe, huge blisters on my atrophied leg.” In Miloš, or Mihajlo as he likes to call him, he found a friend. “He is not only my physician and orthotist, but also my friend.”
Robert wanted to share his personal experience with accepting a change with everyone, because it has changed his life so much for the better and he wishes that to everyone else. “My message to everyone would be –  give it a try, there is nothing to lose.” Through the educational program Miloš was able to learn new skills that a case like Robert’s required. Robert’s life is so much improved, that he cannot say enough about it: “Today, I walk in the form of the letter ‘I’, thanks to the orthoses I obtained through the program of HUMAN STUDY. Today, I have no problems with cramps, no pain in my bones, no back-pain, no breathing difficulties. I do not have to be absent from my job as often as I used to. Today, I walk 5 kilometres in 20-30 minutes, while before I was literally not able to go to the toilet by myself. Before this treatment, I was almost confined to my bed. My room was my world. Today, I work as a clerk and I have several hobbies. I even think about starting my own business, so strong I feel myself to be. I move the world towards the better.”
It is cases like Robert’s that make our work in the world worth while. Our mission is to give the tools to people like Miloš that will help them help people like Robert. Robert’s improved life quality is our biggest reward. Miloš continues now to treat patients with all the new skills he has learned in our program, and he trains others, also as a tutor in some of our programs.

Robert’s experience with Human Study ended at the final practical exams, where he was again Miloš’s model patient, which were organized in Munich, at the State School for Orthopaedie Technique (https://bsortho.musin.de). The school and Human Study have a very fruitful collaboration since 2010. Robert says: “I am very grateful to everyone involved in the HUMAN STUDY educational project in which I participated as a model patient. I am particularly indebted to Miloš for his psychological support, Christian Schlierf for his help with the swimming pool, Bill Neumann for our conversations, and others that I cannot name all but I am indebted to them all. I would like to thank HUMAN STUDY for making this possible, the city of Munich for their hospitality which will always remain in my memory, and to the Don Bosco University. My motto today is: give it a try, move, make an effort! Do not give up and you will see you can do it!