In Haiti, Some Learn to Get Around on Prosthetic Limbs, While Others Make Them

By Dialogo
April 05, 2010

The little girl stops, surprised to be standing up. One step forward, then another. “Koubi!,” her mother shouts to her, trying to explain to the three-year-old Haitian child how to use her new prosthetic limb. “She doesn’t have enough strength in the other leg,” comments Fabianna Pierre, the mother of the girl, whose right leg was amputated above the knee following the 12 January earthquake in Haiti. “Koubi! Koubi, pou-ou ka maché” (bend your foot to walk better), the young mother repeats. In vain ... Stéphie opts to limp off to sit down. “It’s very difficult; she’s been using this prosthetic limb for three days, but she hasn’t managed” to walk, the woman laments. “I’m truly asking myself how my daughter will be able to go to school.” Between 2,000 and 4,000 Haitians are estimated to have lost a limb in the catastrophe that devastated Port-au-Prince two-and-a-half months ago, according to Handicap International. “A third of that number are children,” specifies Thomas Leblanc, an orthopedist working at a rehabilitation center opened by the French NGO in the business district of the Haitian capital, particularly affected by the earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people. But the numbers may get worse, since they do not take into account the first wave of amputations, performed in the three days following the earthquake, warns Silvia Fommella, Handicap International’s spokesperson. The Haitian Health Ministry should complete a more comprehensive report soon, she adds. Confronted with this number of amputations, three centers for making prosthetic limbs and for rehabilitation have opened in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, which before the catastrophe had only one structure of this kind. Drills, screwdrivers, metal tubes, shoes, tins of grease: the benches of the workshop opened by Handicap International at the beginning of the month are covered with objects of all kinds. “We make between six and seven prosthetic limbs a day,” or around forty a week, specifies Albert Saint-Thomas, an employee of the center, where the waiting room is always full. The NGO cares for 300 patients. “An adult needs two or three temporary prosthetic limbs - a child needs two - before getting a permanent one” after several months, Silvia Fommella explains. Brice Canelin, twenty-eight years old, underwent the amputation of his left leg after bring trapped for around fifteen hours under the rubble of the building where he studied. “I can walk without crutches, but it’s not natural yet; I have to keep learning,” he says, smiling.