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'How do I say no' to the limbless?

  • Story Highlights
  • David Puckett's nonprofit provides free artificial limbs, braces and care
  • Since November 2000 the organization has helped hundreds in southeastern Mexico
  • Puckett's organization crafts the braces and artificial limbs from recycled ones
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Motozintla, MEXICO (CNN) -- "My life was sad before because I had to crawl on the ground," recalls Caesar Morales, a 24-year-old father in Mexico who, until recently, had only one limb and couldn't walk.

David Puckett's nonprofit has provided free artificial limbs, orthopedic braces and care to more than 420 people.

David Puckett's nonprofit has provided free artificial limbs, orthopedic braces and care to more than 420 people.

But today, thanks to David Puckett and his U.S.-based nonprofit, Morales has new prosthetic legs. Now, he's not only able to walk, but his newfound independence has made it possible for him to move to another town where he could find work.

"He lifted me up to where I am today," Morales says.

Morales isn't the only person in southeastern Mexico who credits Puckett with changing his life. Since November 2000, the certified, licensed prosthetist/orthotist from Savannah, Georgia, has been providing artificial limbs, orthopedic braces and ongoing care to hundreds in need in the communities of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas -- free of charge.

"When someone loses a limb they immediately know what they've lost," says Puckett. "The goal is to restore the healthy self image again so that that person can see themselves whole."

Puckett first connected with the Yucatan people while volunteering on a mission there as a teenager. Struck by the overwhelming poverty and the physical challenges he saw people facing in the rural communities, Puckett vowed to return and make a difference there.

"When I finally got into the field of orthotics and prosthetics, I said, 'Ah-ha. Now, I know what I can do.' "

His nonprofit, PIPO Missions: Limbs and Braces to Mexico, collects donated, used orthopedic braces and artificial limbs in the United States and crafts new ones from their recycled components. On average, Puckett makes a six-day trip every two months to distribute the custom prosthetics and braces, while also providing ongoing care.

"To deliver an artificial limb or brace without follow-up doesn't help that person in the long run," says Puckett. "We need to make sure that they have what they need to continue living successfully for years to come."

Over the course of his 41 trips to the region, Puckett has helped more than 420 individuals. He's found that word of his work spreads fast through the villages and people will drive hours to attend his clinics. Puckett's trips are routinely extended to accommodate house calls to immobile residents of distant towns. Video Watch how Puckett brings prosthetic and orthotic care to people in Mexico »

"Someone might say, 'I wanna bring 10 people with me next time you come.' The mixed blessing is they'll bring 50 or 100 people that have physical needs," says Puckett. "The difficulty for me is, how do I say no?"

For Puckett, each trip demonstrates the immeasurable impact he is making on people's lives. Stories of previously unimagined independence, confidence and employment greet him from clinical waiting areas, often along with offerings of food, livestock and friendship. When his group helps one person, Puckett explains, it has an effect on an entire community. Video Watch Puckett describe how one patient in Mexico crafted himself a homemade foot »

"It opens a whole other door for many of these folks to experience the world in a way in which they've never even dreamt of," says Puckett. "And the world has an opportunity to greet them, accept them and welcome them back into society. So, it's a double blessing." Video Watch Puckett describe how he helped a woman now known as "the miracle girl" »

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In between trips, Puckett also spends time soliciting the aid of surgeons, as he frequently encounters physical conditions that require surgery before prosthetic help can be successfully administered.

"If we had a surgeon here, we could see eight to 10 patients in a weekend and change their lives forever," he says. "It's tough for people to make the choice to give up time with their families and a portion of their income to extend themselves in this way. But, take it from me, the more we give, the more we get."

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