Prosthetics became her foundation for learning, giving back

Orphaned in Rwanda, a woman overcame childhood cancer and amputation, and is prepared to return to Africa to offer hope to fellow amputees.

In a teaching lab, Claudine Humure uses a level to straighten a plaster cast resembling a human thigh. She locks it in place on a tabletop vise and begins to shape the piece with a file, like a sculptor would a piece of art. Stroke by stroke, a facsimile of an upper human leg appears.

As she works, she’s thinking about the way a prosthetic limb can be fashioned to fit the leg – the various touchpoints, the structures that remain after amputation that act as support, the range of motion and movement the person has left in the limb.

The slight lift in her own gait, as she moves around the University of Washington School of Medicine’s prosthetics and orthotics classroom, is the only sign she has a more personal understanding of her work than many of her peers.

“I love it because I know how it feels when you first put on your first prosthesis and you are able to do things you didn't know you would be able to do before,” she said. “It's a beautiful feeling as a patient. But it's also a rewarding feeling as a clinician, providing the care to the patients.”

The 30-year-old has used a prosthesis since she was 12, after cancer caused the loss of her right leg from just above the knee. Humure, who was orphaned by the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, has a harrowing story. Yet she spends her days preparing to offer others the same hope and love she felt after doctors from the nonprofit Partners in Health helped her begin her recovery.

“It's been a long journey and I feel like this field is very personal to me,” Humure said.

April, she noted, is Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness Month. She spoke of a calling to help heal that grew stronger after she finished her undergraduate degree at Wheaton College in Massachusetts in 2017 and returned to Rwanda. She worked at a medical university set up by Partners in Health, but wanted to make a larger contribution.

“I wanted to do something in the prosthetics field in the country, but I realized that I didn't really have the training I needed to have an impact,” Humure said. “It became clear to me that getting education in the field would be the thing that would get me to my goal.”

She had visited the UW Medicine Prosthetics and Orthotics Program in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine during her senior year at Wheaton, and put the school at the top of her list when she applied to graduate schools. This summer, she will earn her degree and take the first of three board exams in July.

After that she’ll return to Africa via the MIT K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics program in Sierra Leone, a nation with a large population of amputees due to civil war. There she will help set up a prosthetics and orthotics education program.

Eventually she’d like to return to Rwanda and open a clinic for amputees, who largely remain forgotten or ignored, she said.

“It's very difficult and it can be very depressing,” Humure said. “And I feel like, for me, what helped me get out of my depression phase and then to the point that I am at right now, are the people who have continued to believe in me along the way.”

Related: Download broadcast-ready soundbites with Claudine Humure.

Written by Chris Talbott - 206.543.7129,

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