Donors across North Carolina have reached out to survivors of Haiti’s horrific earthquake with, parts of themselves – artificial hands, feet and joints they no longer need but whch can make a life-changing difference to injured Haitians.
Travis Dessoffy, who runs the Greenville office of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, will transport the prosthetics, as well as crutches, canes and walkers, to Physicians for Peace in Norfolk, Va., a nonprofit that will ship them to Haiti. Hanger is the largest U.S. producer of prosthetic equipment. All the company’s 600-plus offices are participating in the limb drive, including those in Raleigh, Cary and Durham.
Physicians for Peace, working with several other groups, is collecting, sorting, and repairing prosthetics that patients in this country no longer want or need. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bars the re-use of prosthetics here, but Haiti has no such rule.
“They’ll be happy with anything they get,” Dessoffy said.
As a result of crush injuries, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people have had limbs amputated during the Haiti quake or because of infections that weren’t properly tended afterward. It will be weeks or months before the swelling and tenderness have subsided so the injured can be fitted for replacement limbs but aid groups have planned a new hospital wing for amputees and new production facilities where Haitians will learn to build prosthetics. . Child amputees may have to be fitted many times before they’re grown.
Even before the earthquake, Physicians for Peace reported that Haiti had 800,000 disabled people, many of whom were treated as outcasts. Physicians for Peace and other agencies are collecting supplies and organizing medical volunteers to set up prosthetic manufacturing operations in Port-au-Prince and at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, 60 miles away. The hospital, undamaged in the quake, will also be the site of a rehabilitation center for amputees.
Specialists working with patients in Haiti will likely lean toward low-tech solutions because those parts will be easier and less costly to maintain. Dessoffy hope to follow the same procedure he does in the U.S>: o fit patients with exactly the prosthetic they need for the activities they perform, whether it’s surf fishing or pick-up basketball.
“I’m just making a tool,” he said. “If you hand me a nail, I don’t want to make a screwdriver.”
Ron Sconyers, president and CEO of Physicians for Peace, said a limb replacement gives an amputee two things: hope and a chance for a normal life. “The most amazing thing we see is with upper-extremity amputees,” Sconyers said. “When they get a prosthetic, the first thing they want to do is hug somebody.”
Aside from the efforts of hanger and Physicians for Peace, members of the N.C. Association for Medical Equipment Services have sent truckloads of goods, including bandages, crutches, wheelchairs and oxygen concentrators to Haiti, according to Beth Bowen, the trade group’s spokeswoman in Cary.
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