The January earthquake not only left thousands of newly disabled Haitians without legs and arms, it also completely destroyed one of the most important rehabilitation clinics in Haiti designed to provide long-term specialized care. Currently there are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 amputees in need of professional care. As part of its longer-term goal to try to address a wide range of health needs in Haiti, the American Red Cross is now helping to fund the reconstruction of this rehab clinic and its workshop and training facilities.
As Amilcar Murrielle watches her son, Pierre Anne, play soccer at the Healing Hands for Haiti prosthetics clinic, she remembers the days just after the earthquake. “Pierre Anne was under the rubble of his father’s house for two days before we got him out,” she explained, “he had some injuries to his head, and he lost his foot.” She said that Pierre Anne couldn’t walk at all after his foot was amputated, and she feared for the worst. “I didn’t know if he would ever walk again,” she said, “it’s like a miracle that he can walk again.”
Photo credit: Daniel Cima
The clinic, which is managed by Healing Hands for Haiti International (HHHI) and expected to cost $1.8 million, will include facilities for consultations and physiotherapy as well as a workshop for manufacturing artificial limbs and other mobility devices. Due to open at the end of 2011, it will also have training rooms for Healing Hands for Haiti International (HHHI) staff,so that they can provide rehabilitation services with an eye towards transitioning the clinic to Haitian management.
"The American Red Cross is pleased to be funding the reconstruction of this important facility," said Ricardo Caivano, country director in Haiti for the American Red Cross. "We hope that this prosthetics clinic, through our collaboration with a group of outstanding partners, will help to meet the needs of an important and often forgotten part of the Haitian population."
Haitians like 20 year-old Evena Prince who had just returned home from school when the earthquake hit. “I was taking a nap when everything started to shake,” she explained while sitting on a plastic chair holding her prosthetic leg in the clinic’s makeshift facilities. “I ran out of the house and a building fell on me.” She was rushed to the hospital, but the injuries to her leg were too severe, and doctors amputated the limb. “I never thought I would walk again,” she said, “but now that I have this leg I can do things that I couldn’t do when I had to walk with crutches.”
Since the January earthquake, HHHI staff and volunteers have been working in a temporary location as well as in various hospitals and health centers.
"Even before the earthquake it was a challenge to help the huge number of disabled people living in Haiti,” said Eric Doubt, executive director of HHHI. “The disaster added thousands of newly handicapped patients at the same time our medical facilities, prosthetic clinic and workshop were completely devastated.”
To complement American Red Cross financing, the Norwegian Red Cross, through the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Special Fund for the Disabled (SFD), will provide material, technical and educational support.
For physiotherapist Gillian Fergusson, every day brings a new set of challenges. “We see about 20 patients a day, sometimes more,” she explained, “but we are training a local staff to be able to help the patients learn how to use their prosthetics.” And while the need for a prosthetic can have a negative connotation, Gillian says that what they are doing is extremely positive. “They’ve gone through the grieving process in the hospitals and at home,” she said, “but this experience is a good one, here they are moving forward and learning to walk again. They also have other people here that know what they are going through, which makes it that much easier.”
And while a well-staffed prosthetics workshop is working every day to give people new limbs, Gillian says that the conditions here make it hard to fit some people. “There are a lot of difficult stumps in Haiti,” she explained while helping a patient walk on crutches, “you have boney stumps or scar tissue that takes longer to heal and that’s harder to fit around.” She also says that children pose a particularly tough situation. “You sometimes have to refit children with a new prosthetic every 6 months, which is hard on the child,” she explained, “and with the poor job that was done with amputations just after the earthquake, sometimes the bone is growing faster than the skin, making it hard to fit a prosthetic around it properly.”
But even with all the issues that fitting Haitians with prosthetics poses, Gillian says that all the hard work is worth it. “When someone comes in here and can’t walk or has to use crutches and then they leave with the ability to walk, that’s a really positive thing, it’s a great feeling.”
HHHI was founded in 1999, dedicated to bringing physical medicine and rehabilitation services and programs to Haiti. The SFD provides support for physical rehabilitation services in more than 30 low-income countries.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.