Wednesday, March 17, 2010



PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Eight-year-old Banave Ulisse sat shyly in a chair, staring at his new left leg. Two months ago, almost to the day, the earthquake that pulverized huge patches of the capital sent him crashing to the ground from the fifth floor of a building, crushing his limb amid the debris.

Now specialists from Handicap International were gently guiding the stump of his leg into a new polypropylene socket. He would soon try a few steps ­if he could be reassured.

The task fell to Louise Boissonnault. A New Brunswick physiotherapist specializing in pediatric rehabilitation, Boissonnault, 44, arrived in Haiti Feb. 13. Gently she bent over Banave, explaining to him in Creole that the artificial leg would hold him up.

Although the quake ravaged Port-au-Prince Jan. 12, it¹s only in the past few days that Handicap International, working with the NGO Healing Hands for Haiti, has been able to set up a permanent site for the manufacture and fitting of prosthesis. Until now, the organization has sent mobile teams to hospitals to measure people for the special, temporary limbs its technicians create.

Boissonnault spent most of her first few weeks co-ordinating logistics. Born in Campbellton but now living in Moncton, she has proven a particularly valuable resource. She's been visiting Haiti for almost 10 years -- mostly to help build an agricultural co-operative in the north. This time, not only were her physiotherapy skills needed, but her knowledge of Creole, French and English.

To glance around Handicap International¹s clean but sparse workshop and rehab area is to see instantly the heartbreak the earthquake wrought. The youngest amputee in the room was a little girl, perhaps five years old.

Several teenagers awaited new legs. Many had lost not just limbs, but family members, too.
At the best of times, Port-au-Prince isn't easy for the disabled.

Rubble-strewn streets and tent cities only worsen the problem, even as amputees struggle with emotional wounds.

"You have to know that things were very, very, very difficult in Haiti even before the earthquake," Boissonnault said. "But to see one collapsed building after another and another and another, people were just wandering. It was not normal, knowing that there were still people under the rubble. All that, it just doesn't fit into one person's head."

The best estimate is that 2,000 to 4,000 people required emergency amputations and now need prosthetics. Wendell Endley, head of the orthotic and prosthetic program for Handicap International in Haiti, estimates the new facility's current capacity is 20 people a week. They will get what Endley calls "emergency" prosthetics before later graduating to a permanent model.

"They need to have good balance, good strength in the residual limb, the scar needs to be healed properly, no pain," Boissonnault explained. "We only can bring people here who are at a certain state of readiness." Even when their temporary leg is ready, it will need adjustments.

Student Emmanuel Delima, 23, was at the centre for a refit on its second day of operation. A physiotherapist helped him with posture and balance. Delima was on the second floor of a three-story building that collapsed in the quake.

Boissonnault plans to stay for six weeks working with young people such as Emmanuel and Banave. She has a job waiting back in Canada.

"I've been e-mailing my sister and my brother and my parents (back home)," she said. "I know everybody's praying hard for everything to go well."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am praying daily for weeks for the amputees and the building to be ready. Thank you for the posts. My heart is with you.