Volunteer Organization Makes a Difference in Haiti

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By Matt Ray

Matt Ray is a volunteer with Healing Hands for Haiti

Several patients were already at the doors when we opened the Haiti clinic at 8 am. The interpreters were ready and the physical therapy room was prepared. Then Jean walked in. Jean worked for the Haiti Electric Company until the day when a power line sent enough volts through his arms to burn them off just above the elbows.

Jean just wanted his independence back, and the Healing Hands for Haiti organization was able to help. He was one of the many people visiting the clinic in February 2002, seeking help from the organization.

The nonprofit group sends a medical team to Haiti four times a year to donate time and resources, and offer assistance to people who need medical help, especially prosthetic services. The volunteers stay at the clinic, a three-story house with beds for 22, and spend a week trying to help people, like Jean, regain independence. Currently the clinic is staffed only one week per month for four months a year, but the goal is to staff the clinic every month.

During the February visit, Healing Hands fabricated seven artificial legs and four artificial arms, and fit 25 children and adults with leg braces. These 36 patients now have an opportunity to improve their lives that would not have otherwise been available. Although treating 36 people seems insignificant in a country with over 100,000 amputees, every little bit counts, especially to those 36 people and their loved ones.

Healing Hands is looking for physiatrists, rehab physicians, orthotists, prosthetists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and nurses who are willing to donate a week to humanitarian work in Haiti. It can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. Any clinician who is interested in volunteering time and making the trip to Haiti is welcome.

In Haiti, there are virtually no orthotic and prosthetic services available. From the clinic in Port-au-Prince, Healing Hands sees patients in need of prosthetic and orthotic devices. Another portion of the stay involves visiting orphanages. Vicki, a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy, has lived in an orphanage her entire life. She has beautiful eyes, and when she smiles, all troubles seem to melt away. Clinicians spent time with Vicki and 20 other children with disabilities to show local caregivers how to work with them each day to improve mobility and independence. By providing instructions, physical and occupational therapists attempt to give children a better quality of life.

It's not easy. Haiti is in dire need of things most people take for granted, such as medical care, clean water, and electricity. When you combine these obstacles with a disability, you realize how bad things can get.

Healing Hands is a young organization that provides rehab services and continuity of care. The group attempts to educate Haitians on how to evaluate and fabricate O&P devices, but it needs the support of trained professionals. In time, this can foster a program of self-reliance; Haitians treating Haitians, instead of relying on outside sources.

For more information about Healing Hands for Haiti, go to www.healinghandsforhaiti.org . To schedule a week in Haiti with Healing Hands, contact Dr. Jeff Cameron at jscameron9@aol.com .