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Las Vegas Man's Efforts In War-Torn Ukraine Changes Lives

Chad Nilson
Chad Nilson

Chad Nilson has traveled to Ukraine to fit people with high-tech prosthesis

Chad Nilson has been working with high-tech prosthetics for more 20 years.

The Canadian native lives in Las Vegas and just returned from Ukraine, where he helped fit Ukrainian soldiers with upper-body limbs, arms and hands.

Some of those soldiers lost their limbs fighting Ukrainian separatists and alleged Russian soldiers.

The experience was an eye-opener for Nilson, who is working toward returning to Ukraine to do more.

Nilson got involved with the effort when he received a call from a friend who also fits prosthetics. A team of people, led by a woman living in Toronto who was originally from Ukraine, went over to help soldiers and other people who lost limbs in the conflict.

One person he worked with lost his hand tossing a grenade away from his fellow soldiers. Another lost his hand when he was hit by a Molotov cocktail thrown during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest.

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking stories Nilson encountered while there was a young man who had his arm cut off near his shoulder because Russian soldiers saw his Ukrainian tattoo. 

The Russian commander took an ax usually used to cut wood and chopped off the young man's arm. 

When Nilson helped fit the man with a new arm, one of the prosthetists was able to get a decal of a Ukrainian trident that was part of the tattoo. They put it on the young man's new prosthesis. 

"I still think about him daily," Nilson told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Nilson said the trip changed him in a profound way.

"It made me a guy who is less self-absorbed and a guy who wants to be part of a bigger project to help and have my life less about me and commercialized business," Nilson said.

He also said it was the first time he understood the scope of the conflict and now firmly believes the Ukrainian people are fighting an aggressive Russian effort. 

He is working to get back to Ukraine to help not only fit more prosthesis but to set up rehabilitation centers that focus on occupational and physical therapy and provide psychological help for soldiers. 

Chad Nilson, prosthetics expert

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.