Monday, February 6, 2012

Helping disabled people in post-earthquake Haiti

From CBS News:

More than two years after the deadly earthquake in Haiti, the long road to recovery continues for those who are injured. CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson has this example of one victim now making a difference in that island nation.

Her right leg broken and her left mangled beyond repair. Three days after the earthquake Shelove Julmiste (pictured) was told it would have to be amputated.

"She was crying all day and night," a translator said, speaking for Julmiste. "She was afraid she wouldn't walk anymore."

Today she's not only walking, but Shelove is helping run the country's first organized rehabilitation program and showing other disabled Haitians how to get back on their feet

Dr. Koji Nakashima is with Partners in Health, one of the largest non-government healthcare providers in Haiti.

"There is a common perception that disability is something that's permanent," he said. "You become disabled, and once you are given that marker of disability, you become less of a person."

He said after the earthquake, there was no program to help victims cope with long-term injury. "You hand out prosthetics, what happens in a year? Two years?"

So now, he and a team of therapists and technicians go door to door, providing patients will follow-up care. One of them is 39-year-old Claude Forest, who two years ago was brought to the medical ship USS Comfort almost completely paralyzed.

Initially, doctors thought he was an earthquake victim. It turned out to be aggressive tuberculosis.

"He was lying on a bed somewhere, he couldn't even see the sun," a translator speaking for Forest said.

After months of consistent therapy he is almost cured. Today, for the first time, he was shown pictures of himself at his worst. His wife said she is shocked by the difference.

"It makes me happy," she said through a translator. "I feel like he has hope that he can be like he was before. Just like me. Just like you."

Which is what Shelove says she tells her patients: If she can do it, they can do it.

Even now, it's estimated there are only about 18 qualified physical therapists in all of Haiti. The Partners in Health team is hoping their pilot program is successful so that it can be replicated at other hospitals and clinics across the country.