Gylfi Hilmisson: Helping People Get Back on their Feet

You can’t help but admire the spirit and will of the people – Monica Pierre is 90 years old and blind – she just wanted to walk again

Gylfi Hilmisson is well known in Grenada as one half of the popular band Gylfi and Jomo (more recently becoming Gylfi, Jomo and Gary – they are looking for a new name). They play ’70s, ’80s and ’90s rock and blues, wowing crowds around the southern half of the island with music influenced and inspired by the likes of Eric Clapton and Steely Dan. Gylfi has always had his guitar with him. He says, “Music has always been part of my life. It is not something you choose, music chooses you, and it’s who I am.” This is the talented performer we all know and love, but few know that Gylfi Hilmisson is also the man behind ‘Attach A Leg Grenada’, or even what Attach A Leg Grenada is.

Originally a prosthetics engineer from Iceland, Gylfi spent over a decade in California. Wanting to escape the rat race, seeking adventure and freedom, he bought a boat in the BVIs – an ex-charter catamaran and named it Shangri-la. Taking a year to fix her up; he spent several years sailing up and down the Caribbean. “The sailing is great in the Caribbean,” says Gylfi, “but it’s the people that make it even better.” Eventually he sold the boat, settled in Grenada and started to look for something valuable that he could do.

Samual Henry, known as Sarge, is over 70 years old and was one of the first to people to be fitted with a prosthetic foot

Recognising that no services were available for amputees in Grenada or much of the Caribbean, Gylfi turned to his friend and former colleague Össur Kristinsson, the founder of Össur Inc., and OK Prosthetics in Iceland. An amputee himself, Kristinsson developed ideas and products that are now the industry standard. When he retired from Össur Inc., the second largest supplier of prosthetic components in the world, he noted that some of the products and concepts he had invented were not being made accessible to many amputees around the world. OK Prosthetics was born as a non profit prosthetics company with the goal to provide low cost yet high quality prosthetic limbs to landmine victims in Africa and around the world.

With this in mind Gylfi reached out to his friend and started providing this very much needed service in Grenada. Carrying the torch for the Caribbean, he joined the OK Prosthetics relief team visiting Haiti and Cuba by yacht after the earthquake in 2010. This is where he met Pippa Stokes, a quietly spoken New Zealand girl working as a cook. Gylfi and Pippa became a team with Pip providing much needed support and logistics to Attach A Leg. They live on top of Mount Moritz hill in a house filled with lots of prosthetic feet and other components where Gylfi has a small workshop to store and build the prosthetic legs. It offers a quiet space for patients – if they are able to get there.

Glyfi fitting a prosthetic limb to Anthony Francis

Founded in 2013, Attach A Leg Grenada gained non-profit status in 2017.

The Caribbean has a history of diabetes and a high incidence of attendant amputations. There are no locally based services available for these amputees and record keeping needs a lot of improvement. Amputees living in remote parts of the island often lead extremely restricted lives, unable to work and dependent on other people to care for them. It is the goal of Attach A Leg Grenada to find these people, register them, assess their needs, fit prosthetic limbs where possible and help them to lead normal lives.

“There are all kinds of challenges, but the need is great and the rewards are not monetary. The rewards are in their eyes when they stand up again,” says Gylfi. “Part of the success of Attach A Leg Grenada is the recognition of the work that we do because the quality speaks for itself.”

To date Gylfi has enabled 60 people to walk again. Nicknamed Mr Goodfeel from a mispronunciation of his name, Gylfi gets no more satisfaction than when he sees a client shopping for shoes in Shoes ‘R us.

The prosthetic materials supplied at cost by OK Prosthetics are paid for privately; by sponsors from a handful of local businesses, or other generous donors.

Gylfi Hilmission and Pippa Stokes met on a yacht visiting Haiti after the 2010 earthquake

Funding is tight and to sustain himself Gylfi has taken a job with LTD Sailing, a Sailing School and Yacht Brokerage in Grenada.

“The challenge now is to enable the sustainability of it. I’d like to find a local person to train to do what I do and pass on the knowledge; to ensure the flow of materials, to fund a newer vehicle to better serve the clients in the smaller villages,” says Gylfi. “The majority of the people have the will and the spirit to get back on their feet, but quite a few of them need more after care and support than I am currently able to provide. The infrastructure just isn’t there.”

Gylfi hopes that in the future, when Attach A Leg Grenada is self-sustaining, that their focus can turn to other islands where there are more people who need their help.

For more information, visit:  www.attachaleggrenada.org & www.facebook.com/AttachaLegGrenada

 

Rosie and her husband Sim Hoggarth have cruise the Caribbean and North America full time for the past twelve years aboard Wandering Star. Follow their travels at: www.yachtwanderingstar.com

Rosie Burr
Rosie and her husband Sim Hoggarth on yacht Wandering Star have cruised the Caribbean and North America fulltime for nine years. Visit their blog: www.yachtwanderingstar.com