Saturday, April 28, 2012
Salt Lake City airport 24/4/2012
Sitting in Salt Lake City airport with only my Steinbeck novel and the butterflies in my stomach for company, I wonder why I am so anxious, and come to the conclusion that it is the dreaded fear of the unknown. I guess we all have a bit of a xenophobe in us. I reassure myself that the unknown is never as scary as we perceive, this I have learnt from many years of travel and adventuring in the outdoors.
I'm not sure what to expect and like any volunteer mission abroad one tends to learn much more than they actually make a difference. I am under no illusion in this regard! But if I can just insight some enthusiasm for learning in the local staff, or help to raise the profile of the Global Therapy Group, I will be happy, and if I get to make a slight difference to the lives of some individuals, then that will make me smile.
Some might think that it is ironic that I have left one earthquake stricken city for another. However, living and working through the devastating Christchurch earthquakes has emoted a compassion in me for helping survivors of earthquakes elsewhere. Perhaps it is a remnant of some survivor guilt, or just a desire to use my skills where they are really needed, or the realisation through years of rehabilitative work, that it is hope that fuels the human spirit. Maybe it is a self healing mission to help me put my own experiences in perspective. One way or another I am very excited to have the opportunity to work as a physiotherapist in Haiti.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
We often feel that when we created Global Therapy Group and a clinic, it was as if we dropped a stone in a pond and the ripples it sent out still continue. Some of the ripples are:
Our 3 translators were all at the top of their classes in high school. (Which is why their English was so good and we hired them!) They told us they never dreamed they would be able to afford to attend college, but after being employed with us regularly for one year, that impossible dream became a reality. Emmanuel is studying to be a lab technician, Alex an accountant, and Andrew a PT. Andrew so impressed all the volunteers who have worked with him, that several came back to the US and helped him apply for and receive a full ride scholarship to a PT Assistant program at St. Catherine University in Minnesota. Andrew ‘s dream is to return to Haiti and become the administrator of our clinic. Andrew’s parents both died several years ago and he and his siblings are being raised by extended family. His dream includes providing for his brothers and sisters and perhaps allowing them to attend college as well.
Each of the volunteers who has traveled to Haiti and worked at the clinic tell us the experience was one of the most meaningful in their lives and that it changed them forever. Many return to Haiti yearly now to assist at the clinic. Others tell us they went back to their communities in the US and found ways to connect there and impact those in need. They tell us Haiti completely changes your perspective. Little things like putting a bottle of shampoo in a shopping cart and realizing it costs more than the daily wage for our translators shifts your reality. And that’s a good thing!
One volunteer returned home and told her Haiti story to the daughter of a neighbor who happened to be a PT. She was so inspired that when she and her husband marry this summer, they will travel to Haiti to volunteer instead of taking the traditional honeymoon.
One group of therapists asked the half dozen elementary school age children who hung around the clinic each day why they were not in school. When they learned that after the earthquake their families could no longer afford the tuition, the volunteers went to the school and paid all fees for the next 3 years for ALL of them.
When another group of therapists asked Andrew why he never smiled fully, they learned he was embarrassed by his front teeth that were filled with cavities and brown. They found a dentist and paid for treatment over the next year to restore Andrew’s beautiful smile. Whenever we see him laugh and smile fully now we feel so happy!
One volunteer is a professor at the University of Georgia. She recognized the need for a real PT school in Haiti, not just a Technician program. We connected her with the Dean of the Quisqueya University Medical School who also has the same dream. We often feel like a conduit, connecting people to Haiti.
A volunteer who is a professor at Boston University PT school has her students fundraising for us each year and has her students create education materials for us as part of their course work.
When we arrived and began treating patients in April 2010, none of the patients had ever heard of “Physio Therapy." Now it is a term know in the community of Port au Prince and patients arrive asking for this service.
Jo Ann and I have many “If we did nothing else in Haiti, we………. stories.”
Clifford was a 3 year old at the time of the earthquake who had his right leg amputated above the knee after being injured. Mom brought him to the hospital due to small blister on his remaining stump, as she was concerned about infection. Clifford had been crawling or she would carry him since his surgery, as she had no idea what therapy was or that any options were possible. We gave him his first pair of tiny crutches that day and watched as he delighted in hopping all over our clinic on his one foot. When we learned on his next visit that he was not walking at home as the rocks hurt his left foot, we gave him a shoe. The next visit when he had cold symptoms, we learned he and his 5 brothers and sisters slept out in the open each night as they did not have a tent or even a tarp. “And he gets wet and cold when it rains” his mom said. One of the volunteers took her own money and bought the family a tarp. Over the next year we had Clifford fitted with his first prosthesis and taught him to play soccer.
Judeline was 15 at the time of the earthquake and was trapped when her family’s third floor apartment collapsed. She had her right leg amputated, her left lower leg was crushed and had nerve damage, and her left hand and wrist were crushed also needing surgery. When we met Judeline she was lying in bed all day and would not rise even for toileting. Her left hand and arm were so stiff and sensitive that she refused to allow anyone to touch them. She was so traumatized, she would not look us in the eyes or smile. With much encouragement, tough love, and perseverance, we were able to teach Judeline to transfer herself from the bed to a wheelchair that first month, and she began to wheel herself all over the hospital. The next month we taught her to walk with a new prosthesis and a walker, and after a few months she could do that on her own. We began hand therapy that was extremely painful for her, but bribed her with I-pod time, candy, magazines, and the attention of handsome young men. After many months the hand was less sensitive and the fingers began to work again. We contacted her original hand surgeon and he arranged for her to come to the US for more surgery so her hand could recover fully. When she arrived it was decided no further surgery was needed due to the extensive therapy she had received at our clinic in Haiti. One year after her injury we taught her to walk with only a cane, and to dance again. Now, two years after her injury, she is walking all over Port au Prince without any assist and most people do not even realize she has a prosthetic leg. She is attending high school, uses her left hand again, and smiles often.
Anise was 6 months pregnant when she was injured in the earthquake and had her leg amputated. She was fitted with a prosthesis, but when we met her in April, she was unable to wear it due to swelling from the pregnancy and was ready to deliver her baby. When Iaasc was born, Anise did not seem to bond with him, perhaps due to her trauma since the earthquake. This was her first baby and she had no family with her to teach her how to feed or care for him. He weighed less than 5# when he was born, and started to lose weight that first week. The hospital started an IV and Anise then believed that provided all his nourishment and stopped feeding him. He was soon too weak to even cry and became limp. We stepped in and educated Anise and her husband about nursing, stimulating and caring for a newborn baby. Soon he was a strong baby boy again. Anise could not carry and care for a baby while walking with two crutches however. So we taught her to use only one and then none.
Nursing Training: Many of the bedbound patients we saw within the hospital had terrible bed sores from lying in one position since their injury three months before we arrived. We organized an inservice for the nurses and educated them about turning patients every 2 hours to prevent skin breakdown. Such a simple thing, but the idea was unknown to the hospital staff. The nurses immediately began to teach this technique to families and soon, few bed sores were found. We found the Haitians so eager to learn new things and were amazed how quickly they embraced new ways of doing things or techniques. People in the US are usually much more resistant!
Because our clinic was there:
Children with amputations who had been hopping on one foot or carried by parents since their injury, were given crutches or a wheelchair and returned to being independent. We arranged for many to be fitted with a prosthesis and then taught them to walk again unaided.
Parents who had children with developmental disabilities had a chance for the first time to learn that more normal movement, walking and hand function was possible with regular exercise. Children learned swallowing techniques and could drink without choking and control their drooling throughout the day.
Parents of babies learned how to monitor for dehydration and the steps to take to rehydrate before the infant became ill.
Many people learned about cholera and prevention techniques.
High blood pressure was recognized in MANY people and education given to prevent a stroke.
Many patients who had problems causing pain that they had lived with for years, were “cured” after just a few treatments and returned to a life free from pain and limitations.
**A woman with a pelvic dislocation after a difficult birth 10 years ago had lived with weakness and pain in her legs. After just 3 PT sessions her pain was gone and she no longer needed a cane to walk.
**A man came to us one year after the earthquake with severe nerve pain in his lower leg after a crush injury. After two weeks of PT, his pain was gone.
**Many people with crush injuries of the hands and ankles from the earthquake came to us with hands and feet that were immobile. Many men were unable to work as their hands could not move or grip. After therapy at the clinic, they began moving more normally and were able to return to work.
**The best thing about treating patients in Haiti is that they follow our instructions and comply fully with our exercise programs. They return, feeling stronger, and are so excited. They tell us, “I am better! Please teach me more.” In the US we have more difficulty getting patients to comply. No one wants to work that hard it seems. When you have to work in order to eat each day, it seems to motivate people more!
We reluctantly closed our doors in late July 2011 and took a few months to regroup and plan for a more sustainable and permanent clinic setting. We were soon offered the use of part of a private home in Petionville, in exchange for improvements we make to the property. Our amazing friends at Rainmaker Fundraising traveled to Haiti with us in December and did incredible things in just 5 days. The construction crew hired several local Haitian laborers, along with Andrew our clinic manager, to help them complete the project. We now have an indoor clinic space of 12x 25 with electric available for lights, fans (yeah!) and even an ultrasound machine. We also have a locked storage room with shelves, a toilet, and sink with running water!!! Rainmaker rebuilt the retaining wall adjacent to the clinic to keep our volunteers safe and added a ramp entrance to the clinic. Rainmaker ROCKS!!! Andrew also has proven to be a man of many talents and was a big part of seeing this project to completion.
We officially re-opened January 16, 2012 and hired our first Haitian Rehab Technician. His name is Camille Frantzo and he is a recent graduate of the new program at Hospital Albert Schweitzer. We have had several teams of wonderful volunteers travel to mentor Frantzo and Andrew and are now scheduling through the end of 2012. There are few NGOs left in the Port au Prince area still providing therapy services. Most have run out of funding and departed. In spite of the fact that we never had access to formal funding, (or maybe because of it!) we are still here and still treating large numbers of patients each week. The clinic continues thanks to our dedicated volunteers and the support of friends, family and church. Perhaps someday we will convince a group of the importance of clinics within communities for therapy, education, and peer support for the disabled in Haiti. Until then, we are determined to push forward!