With a population of more than 10 million, Haiti is similar in size to the state of Michigan, but when it comes to medical rehabilitation services, there is no comparison.
The Caribbean island has been hard hit by earthquakes and hurricanes over the past decade, and recovery continues to be a major challenge, with most island residents receiving substandard medical care. Injuries and infection led to countless amputations after the 2010 earthquake, the catalyst for so many agencies being developed for rehab, assistance and outreach.
D'Youville College in Buffalo is doing its part to help Haitians heal through the Haiti Rehab Project, a non-profit organization whose mission is "to support local rehabilitation and medical programs and provide basic supplies and equipment to clinics, orphanages, families and outreach programs in Haiti." The project was started by Dr. Ginger Oliver, a physical therapist from Utica, who fell in love with the Haitian people when she volunteered in Port-au-Prince in 2012, following the devastating 2010 quake.
Dr. Sarah P. Pictor, clinical associate professor in the college's Physical Therapy Department, was part of a group of students and faculty who hosted two men from Haiti for two weeks last October, training them in rehabilitation strategies, including: splinting, pediatric physical and occupational therapy methods, prosthetics and orthotics.
One training session focused on medical documentation, teaching the men to generate forms to better describe patient progress and patient plan of care, giving medical personnel who volunteer in Haiti a better idea of patient history and course of treatment.
Cedieu Fortilus, a rehabilitation tech from Gonaïves, and Wilfrid Macena, a prosthetic technician from Port-au-Prince, spent two weeks on campus and in the Buffalo medical community, receiving invaluable instruction.
Fortilus, who lives three hours from Port-Au-Prince, heard about the devastating earthquake and knew he needed to do something to assist his fellow Haitians. He traveled to the capital to assist in the interpretation/translation for the response teams, therapists and doctors who knew very little Creole. He began working in the rehabilitation side of the long-term recovery efforts.
Macena, who was a welder before the quake, was at work when it hit and a wall fell in on him, badly crushing and breaking his right leg. Seeing the enormous level of ruin and rubble, he feared for the lives of his wife and three-month-old infant son. He walked for days, going in and out of shock, until he found them. After knowing they were safe, he finally sought attention for his leg, which was infected. Doctors could not control the infection and to save his life, needed to amputate.
He met Fortilus during his recovery. When he received his prosthetic limb, he was sure he could return to playing soccer. He knew there were many others in similar situations and as he worked through the physical, social and emotional challenges of the earthquake aftermath, he and Fortilus decided they would start a soccer team for individuals who experienced the loss of limb.
This was particularly important since the Haitian culture does not embrace individuals with disabilities because they are not full contributors to society and many feel they are a burden. This has a tremendous impact on the work force, financial stability of families and social, emotional wellbeing.
The two men founded the Zaryen soccer team. "Zaryen" is tarantula in Creole, capable of carrying on even if it loses one if its eight legs. The team is supported through the Haiti Rehab Project, as Ginger Oliver recognizes the benefits of raising local, national and global awareness of the Haitian spirit to persevere.
D'Youville also provided the men with two laptops, printers and webcams, which they now use to connect with faculty and students for ongoing professional development. "The goal of the ongoing program at D'Youville is to extend the support for Haiti and Ginger's work for her community rehab project, which is so incredibly important," Pictor said.
"The experience is broadening the global perspective of health care for our students. I want the students to be the teachers, interacting with Cedieu and Macena."
Macena found the training incredibly beneficial. "In Haiti, it would take me two to three days to finish a hand splint, but now I can do it in 15 to 20 minutes," Macena said. He also went into the community, working with pediatric and adult prosthetists. "The objective (of our collaboration with D'Youville) is to continue gaining knowledge and to see others in our staff travel and bring back knowledge as well," he said.
College officials decided the best strategy was to bring the two men to Buffalo, as opposed to sending students and faculty to Haiti. Pictor explained that the conditions and lack of infrastructure in Haiti make travel very difficult. In addition, the college and the Buffalo medical community were able to offer a broader range of learning experiences and hands on training than could have been provided in Haiti.
It is estimated that more than 200 students from the seven health care fields of D'Youville's School of Health Professions had some degree of contact with the two men. The interactions proved to be impactful for these students. "Because we have so many different health care fields at D'Youville, I wanted to reach out to students in these disciplines to have them be part of this international initiative," Pictor said.
Through the Haiti Rehab Project, D'Youville will continue to provide support and guidance in the rehab arena for patient care.
"Total satisfaction," is how Pictor describes the experience. "This collaboration provides a global extension of learning for our students. As health care practitioners, we have the responsibility to provide for patient care, locally, nationally and globally."
For more information, visit www.haitirehabproject.com.