I recently went to the Healing Hands for Haiti prosthetic and orthopedic clinic in downtown PAP to assist a photographer who was shooting pictures for the Red Cross, and had the time to shoot some pictures myself. The clinic has been up and running since just after the earthquake, and according to their Program Director (and our neighbor) Al Ingersoll, they’ve been busy ever since. “We have about 20 people coming in here every day,” he explained, “and we’ve seen over 400 cases so far.”
20 year-old Evena Prince 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, “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.”
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.”
Duilio Barreto is a prosthetic technician who lost his leg during a war in Nicaragua, and is helping to train the Haitian staff. For him, he knows what these people are going through, and wants to make sure the experience of getting a new leg is a positive one. “I was given a prosthetic that didn’t fit, it hurt me,” he explained while installing padding on a prosthetic leg, “that’s why I take extra care to make sure it’s perfect, I don’t want these people going through what I did.”
As he walks through the workshop he wears shorts so that the Haitians getting their new limbs can relate to him. “I know what it’s like to not have a leg,” he said, “I hope I can be a source of inspiration for these people. To give them hope knowing that if I can do it, so can they.”
And while the 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 prostheses 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.”
And while visiting a clinic like this would, at first, seem like a very depressing thing to do, it’s actually turned out to be a really positive experience. “A lot of these people went through the grieving process in the hospital,” Gillian explained, “when they get here they are learning how to walk again, they are getting their life back. It’s not a sad place at all, it’s a positive place for everyone.” And she’s right. These people all have a common bond that allows them to learn and grow together. While I have always been terrified of losing a limb myself, seeing the strength among these people makes you feel weak for pitying them. They might have lost a limb, but they still have their lives, and in Haiti that’s something worth celebrating.
As a side-note, the photographer I was working with was awesome (you can see his work HERE), and he recommended I process the photos in black and white. I did, and as a result I feel these pictures have more emotion in them than any of the pictures I have taken since being in Haiti. If you’re interested in seeing a larger slideshow of the pictures above (which I recommend), and others that I didn’t include here, you can click these words.