November 18, 2010

JDC Dedicates Haiti’s First State-of-the-Art Rehab Clinic and Prosthetic Workshop

MDA therapist helps Oscar gain balance
and mobility with his new prothesis

PORT AU PRINCE, November 18, 2010 —For 23-year-old Oscar, an optimistic man with an easy smile, dreams of being a professional soccer player or a high-tech mogul all but vanished after losing his right leg during Haiti’s destructive earthquake. Today, Oscar and other earthquake victims have found hope at a newly dedicated rehabilitation clinic and prosthetic workshop developed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee together with Israel’s Magen David Adom and Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital as well as the Haitian Red Cross and the HUEH (l'Hôpital de l'Université d'Etat d'Haïti). The modernized facilities are the first of their kind in Haiti.

[Read more of Oscar's story below]

“We’re proud that JDC, together with our local Haitian and Israeli medical partners, have been able to help ensure the recovery of Haiti’s thousands of amputees and others who desperately need these facilities,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager. “Our work will impact generations to come and serve as an example of international cooperation in this devastated country.”

To date, hundreds of Haitian patients have already been treated and more than 70 prosthetics – which require long hours for fitting and manufacture – have been fitted. The newly renovated rehab clinic, which is based in the University Hospital’s pre-existing rehabilitation center, is staffed by rotating teams of Israeli orthopedic doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and prosthesis experts who work and train local Haitian physical therapists and a doctor being trained as the center’s director. The prosthetic workshop, donated by German NGO LandsAid, is used by amputees who have their prosthetics produced on site.

“To understand the overwhelming progress being made by Haitian patients here, you only need to look at the happy faces and pride of those who are now walking independently. We are grateful to JDC, Magen David Adom, Sheba Medical Center, and LandsAid for helping rehabilitate lives here in Port Au Prince,” said Dr. Alix Lassegue, Director of HUEH (l'Hôpital de l'Université d'Etat d'Haïti).

Yesterday’s dedication ceremony included guests from local Haitian, Israeli and international, high profile NGOs. In addition, Ambassadors, Health Ministry officials, and other top dignitaries from Haiti, Israel, and the United States were also present.

“The Jewish and Israeli response to the plight of the Haitian people has been outstanding and we are heartened by the outpouring of critical support and aid at this time. We are fortunate to have JDC – a steadfast partner in times of great disaster – stewarding this project, which is restoring health to many Haitians,” said Dr. Alex Larsen, Haiti’s Minister of Public Health and Population.

JDC’s non-sectarian disaster relief programs are funded by special appeals of the Jewish Federations of North America and tens of thousands of individual donors to JDC. JDC coordinates its activities in Haiti with the U.S. Department of State, USAID, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Israeli relief agencies, and the United Nations, and local Haitian NGOs. JDC relief efforts are part of its International Development Program (IDP), which provides immediate relief and long-term assistance to victims of natural and manmade disasters.

Walking—and Dreaming—Again in Haiti

Ever since Oscar was old enough to kick a ball across a dusty sports field in Port-au-Prince, his dream has been to play professional soccer—and also follow in the technological and philanthropic footsteps of his idol, Bill Gates. Those aspirations were very much alive for Oscar, now 23, in the moments just before the January 2010 earthquake tore through the walls of his three-story high school, killing all but two of his classmates. Oscar escaped with his life, but he lost 250,000 of his Haitian brothers and sisters—and his right leg—to one of this century’s worst natural disasters.

Oscar was sitting in economics class the morning of January 12 when the building started shaking violently, echoing sounds of falling debris and squeaking rebar. He saw the staircase and center of the floor collapse, swallowing dozens of his friends fleeing toward the exit door. Clinging desperately to the building’s external wall—the only one still standing—Oscar made his decision: he jumped out of the building to safety on the rumbling ground.

Oscar did not have time to react to the massive pillar that came crashing down on his leg. He spent the night pinned to the ground; 54 of his dear friends lay dead just a few feet from him. By the time his father reached and pulled him out of the rubble the next morning, Oscar was one of three survivors from his 12th grade class. His right leg was amputated two days later.

The first thing that went through Oscar’s mind when he saw his severed limb was that he would never play soccer again; he would never play on a team that made it to the national soccer championships like he did last year.

“I saw so many amputees after the earthquake that I was sure I would never walk again,” Oscar said with a soft and regal tone that belies his devastation. “I figured, if they don’t have legs, I, too, will never have a leg.”

But then Oscar was referred by a friend to the Haiti University Hospital, where top Israeli medical professionals from JDC field partner Magen David Adom (MDA)/Tel HaShomer Hospital fit him for a state-of-the-art prosthesis. Through intensive physical rehabilitation with Israeli specialists, Oscar stretched, worked on parallel bars, and learned how to take one step at a time—again. With sheer determination and grace that impressed the therapists, Oscar soon graduated from two crutches to one, and then began to walk independently.

“The idea that there were people who were going to take care of me—to get me a prosthetic and help me walk on my own—allowed me to dream again,” he said.

Surveying the destruction and poverty all around him, Oscar says he is “committed now more than ever to be like Bill Gates.” He is studying computer programming with the long-term goal of effecting meaningful change by bringing health and education to Haiti and the developing world at large.

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