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Posts Tagged ‘Prosthetic’

Four-Women-B+W

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.”

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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.”

Woman-with-crutches

Prosthetics

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.”

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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.”

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Boy-with-Soccer-Ball

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.

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I’ve posted a couple pictures of people who have been affected by the earthquake, but most of them I leave out there faces.  This is for two reasons. First, many people feel uncomfortable having their picture taken.  But because many of my pictures are taken while there is a video camera rolling, I tend to be in the periphery, allowing me the opportunity to take photos undetected.  Second, many of these photos are not meant to portray just one person.

While the little boy above (whose name is Sebastian and is the cutest thing ever) is learning to walk on his new prosthetic after losing his leg in the earthquake, there are thousands of others who are going through the same thing that he is.  So the pictures are not meant to portray just one character, they are meant to portray a situation and feeling that is everywhere.

The first time I came to Haiti to visit before moving here I had a hard time describing how it was.  Everyone would ask, “How was Haiti?!” and my response would usually be that I wasn’t sure how it was. “It’s hard to describe,” I would say.  There was poverty everywhere, there was trash everywhere, and there seemed to be no hope, even before the earthquake.  After visiting again there seemed to be one answer that helped me describe “how” Haiti was: the poverty is comprehensive.

But in that comprehensiveness is a sense of cohesiveness.  While the lack of the basic necessities for survival can bring upon desperation, in Haiti it brings a sense of community.  They don’t suffer independently, they suffer together, because you really have no other choice.  When everyone is poor, you never really have much of an advantage over your neighbor, and if you don’t help them they won’t help you, which leaves everyone with nothing.

I’m not sure where I’m really going with this, but what I think I’m trying to say is that it’s really not about one person, or even one group of people.  Here it’s about everybody.  And Sebastian’s situation, and those just like his, are a perfect metaphor for what has been happening with this country for the past couple decades.  Haiti is like a child who lost a leg but instead of providing a prosthetic, the international community (we are all to blame) has given this child a crutch.  The crutches will get him from point A to point B, but it will never teach him to walk on his own.

Every bag of rice, every mobile clinic, every temporary shelter has helped, don’t get me wrong, but they are just crutches on the path to dependence.  There is no doubt there is an immediate need after the tragedy of the earthquake that can only be met with the help of the international aid organizations, but once all these NGOs leave and they no longer need drivers and translators or workers to clear the rubble, there will be nothing left for these people.

There are over 9,500 NGOs in Haiti.  Haiti is the size of Maryland.  That’s crazy.  Theoretically an NGO’s job is to put itself out of business, teaching the people they are helping to get off their crutches and teaching them to walk on their own.  An NGO should go to a group of people in need and tell them, “We are going to help you in a way that, after we’re finished, you will never need us again.”  But there are organizations that boast “25 years of service in Haiti” when nothing has really changed in that period of time.  In fact, it’s gotten worse, so good for you.

I don’t intend to make a blanket statement about everyone doing work here, some are doing an incredible job teaching and helping Haitians to do what they do best: be innovative, independent, and hard working.  But because those organizations are few and far between, we have 9 million beggars (almost the entire population) in Haiti, all of them trained to ask you for something.

It might sound like I’m a little upset about this, and you would be right.  I am upset that every time I go to the grocery store I have a dozen kids run up with their hands out asking for a dollar because I’m white.  I am upset that every time I go to a tent city there is a full grown man with his hand out asking for food.  Because of these organizations with “25 years of service” handing out crutches, walking on their own seems ridiculous now when there are thousands of blancs (white people) running around with free (imported) schwag.

And after all this time, where is the industry?  Where are the opportunities?  Where is the future?  I can tell you one thing, the work of many of these organizations has only made this country more susceptible to continue their own work here.  “We’re in it for the long haul,” they say.  But that’s not the point.

Ideally, in the future Sebastian will learn to walk without his crutches on a prosthetic fitted by a Haitian physical therapist.  Ideally he will get a job working for a Haitian business that will provide him with benefits and a pension.  Maybe he could even live in a city outside Port-au-Prince because Haiti has, after the hard work of the Haitian people, been decentralized in an effort to make it sustainable. Imagine that!  Haiti can learn to walk, we just need to learn to give it the ability to do it on it’s own, without our crutches.

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Fabienne

Port-au-Prince is a 0% handicap accessible city, so when the earthquake left thousands of victims without limbs it took away almost everything.  For Fabienne Jean, losing her leg took away more than just her mobility, it took away her passion.  As a ballet dancer she had done shows all around the capital, and she had even been in a commercial for one of the cell phone carriers here, according to this article.

But she still has hope.  She told us that she wants to dance again, and hopefully with time it can happen.  She will be receiving a prosthetic leg once her stump has healed fully and can handle it.  But until then she sits happily on a chair in front of her house, because according to her, she’s just happy to be alive.

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