Monday, August 16, 2010

"Patients from the Hanger Clinic in Deschapelles, Haiti are the definition of resilience"

The following is a guest blog entry written by HVO Volunteer and physical therapist, Karen Helfrich, who just returned from a session at Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti and the new Hanger Clinic in Deschapelles.

Patients from the Hanger Clinic in Deschapelles, Haiti are the definition of resilience. Each person is there because somehow during the course of their life each one has lost part of a limb or multiple limbs from their body. Coming to the Hanger Clinic is a new beginning for each person. At the Clinic, the patients receive a new prosthetic limb of what they previously lost. Each patient has a story to tell, and each has left an impression on me that I will never forget.

We had a young woman come walking into the clinic on her knees with flip-flops protecting her knees from the ground. At the age of five she lost part of both of her legs because of an infection. Now, sixteen years later, she is standing up tall and walking. On the first day that she got her new legs, she spent time learning how to walk again on the parallel bars. Over a period of time, with much hard work and sweat, she said goodbye to those parallel bars and is now able to walk without any assistance. Every day she would come into the clinic and give me a hug around my waist because it was as high as she could reach. I had to return to the United States before she was finished with her therapy, but I hope that some day I can return to Haiti and get a hug from her as she is standing tall.

We had a five-year-old girl who brought laughter and excitement into the clinic. She too had lost one of her legs. She was not able to wear her new prosthetic leg yet, but would walk all around the clinic with her forearm crutches and her one leg. Her favorite pastime while at the clinic was to play soccer with anyone she could rope into it by batting her pretty little eyes, and smiling wide.

The patients all had one thing in common: the loss of a limb. This helped unite them.

As new patients were admitted, and other patients got ready to graduate from therapy, they each helped teach each other what they had previously learned in therapy. As patients were waiting for their therapy time, they wouldn't sit in the halls, but would rather be up walking around, practicing the stairs, and walking on the terrain.

They are all so strong. I worked for a week and a half straight before I had a patient tell me that they were tired and needed to rest. I must admit I was relieved when I heard this because I wasn't sure if I could continue much longer with the activity we were doing, myself!

I have learned so much from my patients by their courage, strength and resilience.

To see more of Karen's photos from her time in Haiti, visit our RTTP Flickr album here.

For more information about the Rehabilitation Technician Training Program, visit the Friends' Projects page here.