Healing Hands of Hope for Earthquake Survivors
"5 days ago Sony couldn't walk. He's now my success story."
These are profound words from Dorothy Drost, but when you witness first-hand the miraculous outcome the Physiotherapist from Canada has accomplished with her patient Sony, words just can't explain the little miracles that are happening in Haiti. 12 year-old Sony was a victim of the January 12, 2010 earthquake. 60 seconds of terror and his life was shattered as his little body was trapped in the rubble for 3 days. Finding care for Sony in the aftermath of the disaster was a nightmare: he was transported from place to place because nobody knew how to treat his injuries.
Today he is walking on his own, with a little help from Dorothy.
And this was the case with many other spinal cord injuries in Haiti, at least 100 others according to the Director of St. Boniface Hospital, Conor Shapiro. "Our little hospital in Fond des Blancs suddenly became known for treating and rehabilitating spinal cord injuries, because there was no other place for them to go." he says. "We had an enormous task at hand to help treat and rehabilitate these people."
The small hospital in rural Haiti is treating about 20 of the specialized cases, which has taken a serious toll on it's resources.
Three months after the quake enter Team Canada.
Team Canada Healing Hands has been working in Haiti since 2005, mostly providing teams of experts to support rehab initiatives in the capital Port-au-Prince. Working with children in Orphanages, the non-profit organization (NGO) makes and supplies prosthetic limbs and teaches well being and good nutrition not just for kids with disabilities, but the general population as well. Healing Hands sends teams to Haiti that includes physicians, pediatricians, family doctors, orthopedic surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists among others. Though their clinic in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in the earthquake, a new Prosthetic & Orthotic clinic has already been set up with help from Handicap International, and is being run by local staff and expatriates. As their presence in Haiti remains strong, the new relationship with St. Boniface Hospital in Fond des Blancs has also given Healing Hands an excellent opportunity in which more people will benefit.
For this week-long mission at St. Boniface Hospital, 5 professional women from Healing Hands focussed on rehabilitation, self care and training the staff and families on how to deal with spinal cord injuries. The team has come together with their expertise, collaborated and integrated with the staff at St. Boniface Hospital.
"It was a perfect-fit in a time of desperate need" explains Hospital Director Conor Shapiro.
Occupational Therapist Patti Byrne, one of the members of Team Canada explains the situation they faced at St. Boniface "Spinal cord injuries are very difficult to care for and the support that these patients need are enormous. A lot of teaching needs to be done, not just with treatments, but how to get patients mobile and ultimately live as independently as possible. In a place where there is no training for physiotherapists, occupational therapists or rehabilitation, Haiti needs all the help it can get, especially now. Even before the earthquake there were no inpatient rehabilitation units to be found in the country."
Life goes on after the earthquake, and many of the victims face a future of uncertainty. "It's difficult to see how helpless they are, but we can bring our resources and expertise and teach them how to cope as best as possible. Many of them thought we were here to make them walk again. There is always hope, but at this point the reality is most will live the rest of their lives as paraplegics."
The main task at hand is finding wheelchairs for those who are ready to be discharged. Team Canada has been busy measuring the patients and coordinating the delivery of the tailor-made wheelchairs. Special wheels and suspension are needed that will allow for the rugged terrain of rural Haiti with unique padding on the seat that decreases pressure sores on the body. Most importantly, these wheelchairs will help them become mobile and allow them to transfer themselves to their beds all on their own.
And encouraging these patients to become independent is what it's all about.
"It's not all easy" Patti says. Her 22 year-old patient Personna is having a difficult time adjusting to his new reality after losing his family and becoming a paraplegic. "When I was helping him into his bed, I noticed he had no clean clothes, so I washed them. When I gave him his clean laundry the smile on his face was priceless."
These days in Haiti it's the simple things that are appreciated.
"One of the most depressing aspects of it all is you know that everyone in the country is struggling" Patti admits. "But it's amazing to see how people are engaging and families are coming together with courage and dignity. I am in awe of the situation here. Every little bit we do makes a difference."