2012 Forward under 40 Award Honoree
UW Major: Biological Aspects of Conversation
Age: 35 | Chicago
Director of Range of Motion Project;
Managing Partner and Certified Prosthetist/Orthotist, Scheck & Siress
Eric Neufeld said he's fortunate to have found the field of prosthetic engineering at Scheck & Siress, Chicago's largest provider of orthotics and prosthetics. More than one thousand disabled people in the developing world are thrilled he has chosen to use his skill as a volunteer in their country.
Since 2005, Neufeld has raised funds and taken vacation time to travel and provide new artificial arms and legs to poor people in Guatemala, Ecuador, Pakistan, Haiti, and other cities in the United States. Through the nonprofit he founded called Range of Motion Project (ROMP), Neufeld and his volunteers have provided more than 1,500 custom-made prosthetic limbs and several thousand more braces. With no office in the United States, ROMP operates efficiently through its full-service prosthetic/orthotic laboratory and gait-training center in Guatemala. The devices have given mobility back to those who have been injured or suffered from disease.
Friend and supporter Gregory Krupa of Eugene, Oregon, tells of one person whose life Neufeld dramatically changed. A Honduran woman named Mirabelle lost her arms in an attack by her husband, and she could no longer care for her children. After dangerous travel to ROMP's Guatemala clinic, the woman was able to write a thank-you letter with her new high-tech arms and fingers before returning home.
Neufeld says he found his inspiration in a UW anthropology course that featured Margaret Mead, who said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
A former resident of a New York City suburb, Neufeld says his years in Madison introduced him to scholars and students from all over the country whose passions and interests intrigued him and spurred his own self-exploration. It led to his quest to help others.
ROMP "has allowed me to combine my skills and passion to make a difference," Neufeld says.
In his own words
What do you miss most about campus?
Cheesy bread at the farmers' market, biking to picnic point, the Terrace, snowball fights, State Street, and walking up and down Bascom Hill.
What is the one thing every UW student must do?
Stick around for the summer in Madison at least once.
Who or what inspires you?
The amputees I work with both in Chicago and Guatemala, who fight to reinvent themselves after the loss of a limb, constantly inspire me. Seeing opportunity after loss is an amazing thing. They are my heroes; they accomplish things I can only imagine.
What do you see happening or hope will happen in the next five years?
Over the next five years, ROMP will continue to work hard in order to provide very high-quality prosthetic limbs to those in need in order to eliminate the epidemic of untreated amputation in Guatemala and elsewhere throughout the developing world. We hope to build a mobile laboratory that local practitioners can take to existing patients' homes in order to provide adjustments and maintenance on their prosthetic equipment, as well as travel to new areas to treat those in need.
What's your guilty pleasure?
Walking the aisles of Home Depot not looking for anything in particular.