By Danielle Beurteaux
Mead Welles has seen a lot of suffering during his many
travels. But one child he saw in Jakarta in 1997 changed his
||Mead Welles: I
thought, "I can do something about that."
During an exhausting multicountry tour when he was starting
Octagon Asset Management, Welles - sleep deprived and feeling
sorry for himself - saw a child with a deformed leg being
pulled along on a garbage can lid. Welles had already thought
of starting a not-for-profit, and this was his wake-up call.
"It totally reenergized me," says Welles. "I thought, 'I can do
something about that.' "
And he did. Welles, 44, CEO and senior portfolio manager of
Octagon, a small hedge fund in New York, started A Leg to Stand
On with the help of a fortuitous meeting. He reconnected with a
college friend at a wedding and met her father, Dinesh Patel,
who is chief of arthroscopic surgery at Boston's Massachusetts
General Hospital and an associate clinical professor of
orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. "He told me, 'If
you decide to pursue this, I'll support you in any way that I
can,' " says Welles.
Patel had already set up a facility for orthopedic training
at Paraplegia Hospital in Ahmedabad, India, which became the
site of ALTSO's first effort in 2003. ALTSO is now active in 15
countries, partnering with existing organizations to provide
medical care, prosthetics and physical therapy for children
from newborn through late teens.
ALTSO grew organically, says Welles, as its reputation
spread, and requests for help have increased. Childhood limb
loss and problems are usually because of trauma, such as
traffic accidents, and congenital abnormalities. It's difficult
to pinpoint causes, says Welles, but pollution, noxious
chemicals in water and malnutrition are all thought to be
culprits: "In developing countries, you've got a much greater
instance of birth defects."
Welles, who has three young children of his own, also points
to the lack of ambulatory care in many of these places. If an
injured child lives far from medical services, he or she will
often go untreated, and an untreated injury can easily turn
gangrenous and require amputation.
Limb loss is a too-common problem in Cambodia. After three
decades of conflict, the country is littered with land mines
and unexploded ordnance. ALTSO has partnered with UK outfit the
Cambodia Trust, the largest provider of prosthetics in
Southeast Asia, granting $18,000 in 2011. "We can achieve our
mission through that relationship," explains Welles.
Patel supported Welles's idea because not many organizations
focus on providing limbs for children, and he saw Welles back
up his intentions with action. "Mead has tremendous passion to
do something for children," says Patel.
Those who want to experience ALTSO's work can volunteer on
missions. Says Welles, "If you were to ask them, they would
probably say that it changed their lives." AR