Image courtesy of Haiti Stands on its Feet
After the 2010 Haitian earthquake, I visited the Physicians Without Borders emergency clinic in Léogâne. Patients with varying degrees of injuries were waiting for attention on the long driveway there. The doctor I talked to that day was full of posturing and foolishness, unlike most of the doctors I’d met who work with this group. In the long line of patients was one boy who’d lost both arms when his house fell on him, and of course both his hands, as well. He was three years old.
He was waiting and waiting — for hours.
Eventually, late that afternoon, I brought him and his mother to Port-au-Prince to get more pain medicine and to make sure his wounds had been properly dressed and fixed.
They hadn’t been, and the volunteer doctors in Port-au-Prince gave the boy what’s called a refinement operation. Soon after, he and his mother disappeared back into the countryside, and, searching in desultory, on-and-off fashion, I couldn’t find him again.
So when I visited Haiti most recently, in December 2012, I made this kid my priority. I had written about him in my new book, and felt an urgent need to make things better for him. I knew that if he had been a little guy in the US, injured in such a catastrophe, he would have had prosthetic arms within a few weeks or months of the disaster.
And so I did find him.
A big New York doctor told me that he couldn’t really begin to advise me about the kid until I could offer him some photos of the injuries — so I took photos, too. The child’s family shack was on a remote hilltop somewhere outside Léogâne. I got the pictures and sent them to my New York specialist who wrote back: “He needs prosthetic arms.” Duh. For this we need a medical degree?
But he also sent me some contact numbers and emails of orthopedists working in Haiti, and it turned out that the first ones I contacted, Haiti Stands on its Feet, a Puerto-Rico based group, were coming down to Haiti in January, 2013, to see patients at a clinic not so far from Léogåne. I contacted them, and they said they’d very much like to see this patient.
From here in California, I called Roberny Rosier in Port-au-Prince — Roberny, the heroic driver who’d gotten me over three rivers and up steep hillsides to the boy in December, and he agreed to go find the kid again, and bring him to the clinic.
After three visits, the most recent last Thursday, March 14, the child, now six years old, has a set of prosthetic arms. Thank you, Haiti Stands on its Feet!!
Naturally, I am happy about this — but still, I worry that it will be so hard for the child to stay focused on getting used to his new arms. His mother died of heart problems soon after the earthquake; he has an attentive father, but he lives in a big household, and that father has many other responsibilities. Plus there is so much stress in the Haitian countryside, so much poverty, so little work and so little food — it’s not like the kid can go to his physical therapist every other day. It’s not as itf he has a state-funded caregiver. He doesn’t even attend school.
So I am worried but hopeful. The boy’s doctors at Haiti Stands on its Feet seem to care in a serious way. His were the first upper body prostheses they have put together for their Haitian patients.
Well, so far it’s the kind of feel-good story I never thought I’d be part of.