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Progress comes slowly in Haiti - Part 2

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 23, 2010 - As Haitians look back on the earthquake devastation that remains and look ahead to the hurricane season, they clearly see that a lot of work remains.

About 1.5 million Port au Prince residents (out of the country’s population of 8 million) still sleep in tented camps and spend part of each day standing in line for purified water. Coordination among aid organizations that have been in Haiti for a long time is going well, but that’s not the case with many of the organizations that first came in after the quake.

Some of the benefits of a longtime presence in the country can be seen in Hopital Sacre Coeur in Milot and Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelle, both of which have strong St. Louis connections.

Hopital Sacre Coeur

"At Hopital Sacre Coeur, we are working through the last of earthquake victims, seeing that the patients know how to work their prosthetic devices," said Charles Dubuque, whose father helped transform a dispensary into the hospital. At the end of physical therapy sessions, they are discharged and given directions to open space in the nation's capital.

"We supply them with tents, food and money; and they get on standard transportation back to Port-au-Prince," said Dubuque, vice president of Ronnoco Coffee Co. in St. Louis.

All winter and spring, his cell phone has been glued to his ear as he recruited private planes to transport volunteer doctors, nurses and medical technicians and donated medical goods to the hospital. From mid-January to April, more than 1,100 volunteer medical professionals -- scores from Missouri -- worked for six days or more at Hopital Sacre Coeur to help the regular Haitian staff.

"It really restores one's faith in mankind," Dubuque said. "In the course of a regular year, the hospital used to have 240 medical volunteers."

U.S. volunteers included physicians, especially bone and infection specialists, nurses, medical technologists, physical therapists, pharmacists, and prosthetic technicians. Hopital Sacre Coeur's newly trained Haitian prosthesis technicians have been manufacturing custom, artificial limbs for several months.

International awareness has increased demand by Haitians needing non-crisis related health care and is driving expansion. CRUDEM, the foundations that funds Hopital Sacre Coeur, is buying adjacent property and has blue prints for two buildings. Even before the quake, Sacre Coeur was the region's largest employer. Its medical director, CFO, hospital director and staff doctors, nurses and clerical staff are all Haitians, Dubuque said.

"Patients may go to another hospital but those doctors refer more difficult cases here because we have specialists," said Dubuque. "Our lab is a shining star, we can do tissues, and blood samples, anything that needs to be done."

By Jan. 1 Hopital Sacre Coeur expects to add a new hospital building with 50 additional beds to supplement its current 70 indoor beds. It will add two more operating rooms to the current pair, a new maternity delivery room, and a high-tech emergency room. The lab will be expanded.

Upon admission, each patient will be fitted with a bracelet with a bar code. "Instead of Third World pencil and paper, a wand will enable staff to read barcodes and track patients' medicines, medical records and treatments," Dubuque said,

A new 6,000-square-foot supply depot building will store medicine and medical supplies. Every item stored there will get a bar code. When an item is used, employees will swipe it into a reader so either Haitian staff or volunteers in the U.S. can reorder.

Artificial limbs

In Mary Christman's eight years of teaching Haitians to be rehabilitation technicians or aides at Hopital Albert Schweitzer  in Deschapelle, Haiti, she never saw a patient get an artificial leg there.

"I saw one person back in Port au Prince with one," she said.

In April, during her three-week volunteer teaching stint, she observed 70 to 80 limbs being fitted daily. The Meramec Community College physical therapy professor helped develop Albert Schweitzer's nine-month training program for rehabilitation technicians. The aides skillfully guide patients through medical therapists' prescribed movements.

After the quake, Hanger Orthopedic Group, a leading manufacturer of artificial limbs, sent three employees to Albert Schweitzer to fit the thousands of new amputees. With scant care or pure water after the earthquake, many injured Haitians' broken limbs had become infected. Drastic amputations prevented the spread of infection and saved lives.

Hanger prosthetic experts have been teaching Haitians how to manufacture and fit the limbs at the hospital. "These are not Third World prostheses," Christman said. "They are state-of-the-art."

And new artificial limbs are not limited to earthquake victims. Michael Ars, a wheel-chair user who Christman has known for four years, surprised her shortly after her arrival. He walked up to her on two new artificial legs. Squeals of joy marked the reunion.

"Hanger said that a Haitian who needs a limb, for congenital reason or earlier accidents can have one," she said. "It's a silver lining."

On Jan. 12, another St. Louis physical therapist, Charles J. Gulas, dean of Maryville University's School of Health Professions, experienced the tremor and heard the screams. He was there for three weeks to teach 46 students in the same rehabilitation aide program that Christman helped devise.

The first days after the quake, Albert Schweitzer's hallways were lined with the injured. Gulas helped the hospital's all-Haitian medical staff stabilize those with spinal injuries. Patients with broken bones were temporarily stabilized with wood splints and even cardboard and duct tape until their turn for surgery or better casts.

In January, there was only one resident physical therapist in the whole country, Gulas said. Yet hundreds of people he saw daily needed these specialists. Christman, a physical therapist, is pleased that six therapists are now in Haiti, one at Albert Schweitzer. The need for more of these degreed experts is critical to help thousands of new amputees. About 45 physical rehabilitation aides should get their certificates at Albert Schweitzer in September. Gulas and Christman each plan to return to Haiti next year to help train the next class of aides.

Part 1: Meds & Foods for Kids is reaching more people and is being locally managed.


Patricia Rice is a freelance journalist.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.

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