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HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Basketball enthusiast Gong Guilin had both his legs amputated after rescuers freed him from the debris of his school which collapsed in China's devastating earthquake last year, but he considers himself lucky.
More than 7,000 survivors have had one or more limbs amputated after the May 12 quake, but many were treated at Chinese hospitals which officials say have prosthetic know-how and rehabilitation services that lag far behind the best that is available internationally.
Gong, however, was fitted with advanced protheses in Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu that were paid for by Hong Kong taxpayers and took his first steps in August.
He is now in Hong Kong with two other amputees, medical experts and officials to raise public awareness, and funds, about the lack of services for amputees.
"I was trapped with three dead classmates resting on my body. I'm very lucky to be alive and I really hope to play basketball again," the 20-year-old told a media gathering.
The quake killed more than 80,000 people, flattening wide swathes of southwest China and leaving millions homeless.
Li Yuanfeng, president of the Sichuan Provincial People's Hospital, told Reuters that rehabilitation technology in Hong Kong was much more advanced than in mainland China.
"More than 100,000 people were wounded and are in need of rehabilitation," he said.
"In our hospital we have 56 very badly injured survivors who need therapy maybe for life, people who have brain injuries, who are in a vegetative state or who are paralyzed."
K.M. Chan, professor of orthopaedics and traumatology at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong, said it was particularly important to fit young amputees with modern prostheses.
"If children are not fitted with high-tech, light and stable prostheses, they won't use them. After a year, if they have not been through proper rehabilitation, they will just use one leg forever," said Chan, who started a prostheses and rehabilitation program in Sichuan shortly after the earthquake.
"China has been manufacturing prostheses for a long time, but there is newer technology."
A China-made prosthesis costs around 3,000 yuan (US$366), but it is heavy and comparatively inflexible, Chan said. The ones that Gong was given cost 50,000 yuan apiece.
Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn, editing by Miral Fahmy