Following the January 2010 earthquake, in which many people died and many others suffered major crushing injuries, Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti cared for a number of patients who had undergone traumatic but life-saving amputations. Even before the earthquake, it was difficult to find a place to provide new limbs for people who needed them due to accidents of chronic diseases. Within weeks of the devastating disaster, representatives of the Hanger Ivan R. Sabel Foundation visited the hospital to establish a prosthetics service. During the first 18 months of the lab’s operation, more than 1,000 new limbs were provided to amputees, most of whom came from Port-au-Prince.
Assisted by volunteers such as physical therapists from Physicians for Peace and nurses from Massachusetts General Hospital, the lab measured, cast and fit limbs, and housed the patients as they practiced walking, dancing and even kicking a soccer ball.
As the demand for earthquake-related prostheses declined, HAS became aware of the need for orthotics services, which strengthen existing limbs and guide growth from dysplasia. This month, HAS extended its services to include orthotics; the rotating Hanger and Medi (Germany) specialists have spent much of the last months of 2011 training the four Haitian prosthetics technicians to also fabricate orthotics.
One of the first patients who came to the orthotics service was 15-year old Shelove, whose scoliosis was so severe that it impeded her breathing. She had come to the HAS Rehabilitation clinic for assistance for stiff limbs, and the director of the rehabilitation service, David Charles, immediately saw that her scoliosis could be relieved with orthotic brace, and referred Shelove to the Hanger Klinik. The following week, she was fitted for a thoracic/sacral/lumbar orthosis and returned to the nearby town of Verettes.
When Shelove came to the Klinik this week for an adjustment, technician Alix Paul showed her and her mother how to adjust the straps of the brace herself to conform to whatever position she was in. Proud of her new independence, she reported that she was wearing the device up to ten hours a day, and was enjoying greater flexibility and less pain. Her shy smile was all the thanks Alix needed to see, to know that his new skills were appreciated.