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Summer in Haiti an inspiration

My name is Dave Campbell. I am a second-year medical student at the University of Calgary. I am doing my six week summer elective in Haiti.  Rather than doing a clinical observership for the entire time, I have decided to spend the first four weeks doing a research project. Under the supervision of Dr. Wilfreda Thurston (Community Health Sciences), I designed a study entitled ‘Patient Perspectives of a New Prosthetics Provision Service in Rural Haiti’. Prior to entering medical school I obtained a Masters degree in Medical Anthropology and I also speak Haitian-Creole fluently.

Following the earthquake on January 12th, a group of American philanthropists as well as the philanthropic arm of the largest prosthetics provider in the United States (Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics) joined together with Hôspital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) to form the Haitian Amputee Coalition for Prosthetics and Rehabilitation (HACPR).This body functions out of a building on the HAS campus in the rural community of Deschapelles in the L’Artibonite valley. It is unique among the eight prosthetics providers in the country in that it provides inpatient rehab services. When patients come here to receive their limb, they stay on a small compound about a mile from the hospital and go to the rehab centre everyday during their stay.

My study is important in that it provides local feedback to the program directors that are now at a decision point for the future of the project. I am conducting interviews and focus groups with prospective and retrospective users of the service. I am also utilizing participant observation as a means of collecting ethnographic data with the current patients.

I live at Escale, the amputee village, and follow patients to the clinic most days and spend a lot of time with them in order to be seen as an insider and this has allowed me to observe their natural interactions in a way that would not be possible through more traditional data gathering methods.

The past two and a half weeks have been wonderful! As much as I love to study medicine, it’s hard to beat a life where my life is to talk to people who I respect incredibly.

I would just like to tell the stories of a couple of the people that I have had the chance to live with for the past few weeks because they are inspiring and show the strength of the Haitian people. I have used pseudonyms to protect their identity.

Magda arrived here around the same time that I did. She is a middle-aged woman who is a below-knee amputee from an injury sustained in the earthquake. She always has such a wonderful demeanor about her, she is a very positive person and is truly a strength to her peers both during therapy sessions and just during the day-to-day lows that many people experience.

I knew her for 10 days before she really told me her story. One night she opened up about herself. She was in the market selling her wares during the earthquake. A pole fell and crushed her leg. Unfortunately at her home, not too far away, the situation was worse. Her husband was there with her two sons. Her husband and one of her children died, and the other boy had his hand amputated. Here is a woman who was quite poor to begin with who has now lost her leg, her business, her home, and most of her family–yet even with the extensive interactions I had had with her, you would never have guessed that this was the case. While she did tear up while telling me the story of her experience with January 12th, that was the only time I ever saw her without a huge smile on her face.

Magda was discharged from the program last Thursday. I thought of Magda today because I saw her earlier when she came in for a follow-up appointment–she was walking much better on her prosthetic limb and didn’t even bring her crutches with her for the appointment. The therapists were astounded by her progress in the past week while being away from formal rehabilitation. She said that she has to learn to walk again so that she can go back to selling her wares to support her and her son. She knows he is going to have difficulty being able to work in manual labour (which comprises the vast majority of jobs here), and wants him to go to university to get a good job. She realizes that without an advanced education, someone with a handicap such as his would struggle to get by in this environment.

I never cease to be amazed at the courage and resilience of the Haitian people, and I said that even prior to the earthquake. The citizens of this country have never had it easy and it is truly impressive to see how they deal with their enormous challenges with faith and hope for the future.

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