Friday, April 30, 2010

Lost Limbs and New-Found Hope

Working closely with the Haitian Ministry of Health, Project Medishare is planning to move out of its tent-based village at the Port-au-Prince airport to a permanent, fixed facility. In addition, Project Medishare, focusing now on long-term prosthetic care, is planning to build a Prosthetic and Orthotics Center. Their goal is to fit 1,800 amputees with new limbs. It is estimated now that anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 Haitians were left without a limb as a result of the January earthquake, numbers which are roughly comparable to the number of amputee U.S. veterans returning from Vietnam. For ever $300 donation, Project Medishare is able to ensure another amputee will walk again. Typically, 6 months of physical therapy is require before getting fitted. Adults require a replacement every 3-5 years, while children need one every 6-12 months.

In addition to issues such as cost, distribution, and durability, cultural sensitivity is a chief concern. Dr. Fitzgerald and Dr. Vanek recall looks of apprehension and dread in the eyes of patients and family members when faced with the reality of a potential amputation. "Either we let these people who lost their limbs face a life of begging or worse, or we say this is our chance to make this a vibrant disabilities rights movement in Haiti," remarked Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health. Three Haitian-Americans have founded an advocacy group for Haitian amputees called S.A.V.E. 509 (Support and Action for the Victims of the Earthquake). Their mission is to "empower those suffering from limb loss in Haiti by providing assistance, relief, emotional, physical and psychological healing. The organization agency for the disabled while enabling amputees in Haiti to have access to prosthetics, crutches, wheelchairs and rehabilitation services so that one day they can regain their mobility thereby becoming independent, walk again and return to their daily routine." MSNBC has a project called Building a Life Worth Living, which will follow the work of groups delivering prosthetic limbs and "explore the experiences of those who've lost limbs and the struggle they say is not just to survive, but to build a life worth living."

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