One night in 2004, Stephen Sumner was returning home on his motorcycle from eating pizza with friends in Tuscany, Italy, when he was struck by a car and left for dead. He lost his left leg from above the knee but was lucky to be alive. For years after, he suffered terrible bouts of phantom limb pain, which is when an amputee continues to have feeling—mostly painful—in the limbs they no longer have.
He finally broke free of the pain with a remedy known as Mirror Therapy, and it involves using a simple mirror reflect the intact limb in place of the phantom limb, thereby giving a visual sensation of its presence. Though how it works is not entirely understood, the practice is effective for most amputees, 50 to 80 precent of whom suffer from such pain.
He was so inspired by his recovery that he travels the world to areas in conflict or are otherwise impoverished to help those in need deal with their suffering. They include places such as Cambodia, where thousands of children and adults have been injured—if not killed—by unexploded land mines. He keeps a website called Me and My Mirror where he documents his travels and describes her personal experience with phantom limb pain.
An avid cyclist before the accident, Sumner uses an Xtracycle long-tail cargo bike to travel from village to village to help folks deal with their pain by distributing mirrors and teaching people how to use them.
You can read more about Sumner and his travels at Me and My Mirror as well as in this excellent article from Mosaic, a web magazine about science and biology. Also, if you know of anyone else who uses an Xtracycle to do inspiring work, let Xtracycle know at [email protected].