April 30, 2010
Nancy Avena was a Volunteer in Haiti with Physicians for Peace
WHO: Nancy Avena, M.HS, P.T. of Des Peres Hospital, Physicians for Peace and the Haitian
WHAT: Provided physical therapy services to the people of Haiti who are in need of rehabilitative
help following the January 2010 earthquake
WHERE: The Hanger Clinic of the Haitian Amputee Coalition, a long-term prosthetic and
rehabilitation center at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Deschapelles, Haiti
WHEN: Ms. Avena was in Haiti from April 10 – April 24
WHY: When Nancy Avena saw the news reports of the amputee victims in Haiti following the
January 12 earthquake, she knew that her skills as a physical therapist experienced in
working with patients with orthopedic and amputee conditions would be needed. Her
children are older, and Nancy felt that this was a good time to volunteer. She feels lucky to
have found Physicians for Peace, since there were not many organizations working directly
with the amputee victims and providing prosthetics. Nancy was the second Physicians for
Peace physical therapist to travel to Deschapelles, Haiti and work at the new Hanger Clinic,
established 6 weeks after the earthquake.
When she arrived, it was difficult at first. There were barriers because of the Creole
language; she had to get used to a new process that was evolving as new volunteers came
and were able to implement systems; there were just so many patients waiting for help,
with new patients arriving daily. But soon Nancy adjusted and was in full swing, working
with about 12 patients each day. She enjoyed meeting the other medical volunteers at the
hospital, and each person was eager to learn and share stories. In the end, the patients were
what really impressed Nancy. “The word we all used was resilience.” Nancy explained,
“After all the devastation and personal struggles, I was amazed at how grateful and
motivated they were. And they were very strong, both physically and mentally.”
Four-year-old Yoleson Darius (in photo with his mother and translator, Ronnie) had
been buried under the rubble for four days. His mother and grandmother believed he was
dead until a worker nearby heard his cries and pulled him out. Yoleson and his mother were
living in a tent city in Port-au-Prince and transported by shuttle to the clinic in
Deschapelles. After receiving a prosthetic limb, he was walking everywhere with his
mother (who wouldn’t leave his side), chasing goats and having a great time.
There was also 7-yr-old Crissant Weisban (photo with crutches with Nancy Avena). He
was orphaned by the earthquake, and had a very difficult amputation - at the hip. While at
the clinic, he suffered high fevers, and was treated for malaria. But his smiling face and
positive attitude affected everyone he came into contact with. Crissant’s caseworker found
an orphanage for him to go to after he was released from the clinic.
About 75% of the amputee patients at the clinic were injured as a result of the
earthquake, but there were also patients who had been injured years ago. Word was
spreading about the prosthetic clinic, and many of these people also came to seek help. One
man walked for hours over a mountain on crutches to see if he could get a prosthetic leg.
His amputation had occurred 15 years ago, but Haiti’s resources to care for the disabled
were severely limited. Perhaps the one silver lining in this tragedy is that there is finally
worldwide attention and awareness of the needs of the disabled.
Nancy’s biggest concern was about the future of the amputees. Clinics and facilities are
in Haiti now, but what about in 5, 10 and 20 years? Amputees need new limbs every few
years due to wear and tear; growing children will need new prostheses much more often.
Thankfully, the Haitian Amputee Coalition is committed to being in Haiti for the long term.
In addition, Physicians for Peace is working with partners to ensure that Haitian trainees
will be able to receive full certification as prosthetics specialists through a 3-yr program
that will combine distance learning with hands-on instruction in Haiti. This is part of
Physicians for Peace’s overall mission to build local medical capacity through training and
education in the developing world.
Since 2005, internationally recognized Physicians for Peace (PFP) has been providing
amputee rehabilitation services in Haiti. The number of injured and disabled in Haiti has
risen dramatically because of the earthquake. At the same time, much of the resources that
had been established to treat the disabled in Haiti have been destroyed.
Physicians for Peace is a charter member of the new Haitian Amputee Coalition which
was launched post-earthquake by Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc. (Hanger) and its
philanthropic organization The Hanger Ivan R. Sabel Foundation in partnership with
Physicians for Peace, Shepherd Spinal Center, and the Harold & Kayrita Anderson
Family Foundation and the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS). The Haitian Amputee
Coalition is a long-term prosthetic and rehabilitation center on-site at HAS, an
undamaged local hospital with a high clinical reputation located 60 miles from Port-au-
Prince in Deschapelles, Haiti.
The Coalition is staffed by volunteer U.S. prosthetic experts from the Hanger
Orthopedic Group and in conjunction with local Haitian medical professionals.
Physicians for Peace is providing donated medical supplies and teams of physical
therapists to deliver direct client care, training and expertise and is using protocols from
its Walking Free program.
CONTACT: Monika Bridgforth
Senior Director of Development and Communications, Physicians for Peace
757.625.7569 x316 / email@example.com