Pakistani Military Hopes Rehab Will Lead Men To Paralympics

The Pakistani military's Armed Forces Institute for Rehabilitative Medicine in Rawalpindi is the top rehab center for veterans wounded in what they call "the war on terror." Most of the young men there are from the country's Frontier Corps and have fought in Waziristan. They have lost arms and legs to roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices. Pakistan is doing its best to get them artificial limbs. But a new program goes a step further. The hospital is furnishing some men with blade legs and training them for the Paralympics.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Over the past decade, more than 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the war against Islamist militants along the border with Afghanistan. We're about to hear a story now about some of the nearly 10,000 who have come home but wounded. Many end up in the Armed Forces Institute for Rehabilitative Medicine in Rawalpindi. It's the top veterans hospital in Pakistan. As NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, the Pakistani military is doing its best to get the wounded back on their feet.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Twenty-three-year old Mohammed Yasin lost a leg in North Waziristan two years ago.

MOHAMMED YASIN: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: We were trying to defuse a bomb, he says, and then it went off, detonated by remote control. IEDs in the tribal areas of Pakistan have robbed most of the men in this ward of their legs. About half of them are part of a tribal force called the Frontier Corps. Frontier corpsmen were on the front pages of the Pakistani newspapers just before New Year's Day. Nearly two dozen of them were captured by the Pakistani Taliban and taken hostage. Their bodies were found, two days later, shot execution style. Comparatively, these men are lucky.

YASIN: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: When I first came to the rehab center, the doctors gave me a regular artificial leg, he says. Then several months ago, they offered him something new: a blade leg. Yasin says it changed his life.

YASIN: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: I can run about as fast as I did before I lost my leg, he says. The blade leg, he adds smiling, has a lot of bounce. Dr. Ikram is one of the attending physicians on the ward.

DR. IKRAM: He's a patient with a single-limb loss, OK? Now, there's a patient have both legs - the both of his legs because he lost both of his legs. He's a patient like Oscar Pistorious.

TEMPLE-RASTON: South African Oscar Pistorius was the first double amputee to ever compete in the Olympics. That happened last year in London. He, too, was running on blade legs. This hospital ward's Pistorious is a 23-year-old Frontier corpsman named Aman Ullah. He looks more like a linebacker than a sprinter. He says he lost both his legs to an IED that was planted inside a car.

AMAN ULLAH: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: It was in Kyber Agency, near the Afghan border, he says, on January 20, 2012. Most soldiers like Yasin and Aman Ullah are given desk jobs after injuries like these. But according to Dr. Ikram, the hospital has bigger plans for these two.

IKRAM: We are preparing our patients for Olympics, as well Paralympics, as well next Paralympics.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yasin and Aman Ullah would be the first men the hospital have sponsored for the team. Pakistani athletes have been competing in the Paralympics since 1992, and they got their first silver medal in Beijing in 2008. The medical staff here is hoping these men can medal too. The next Paralympics are in Moscow in 2016. Dr. Ikram takes me to an outdoor track behind the hospital to show me what Yasin can do, and he asked me to race him.

IKRAM: If you want, you can compete with him.

TEMPLE-RASTON: I don't have my running shoes on.

(LAUGHTER)

IKRAM: We'll provide you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yeah, I'm sure.

(LAUGHTER)

TEMPLE-RASTON: We put an able-bodied driver up against him instead. On his blade leg, Yasin won with ease. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Islamabad.

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