A local prosthetist recently took his passion for helping others to a little clinic in the coastal area of Port-de-Paix, Haiti.
As part of the STAND Haiti project, David Richie, of Richie Limb & Brace, spent two weeks working as a prosthetist and orthotist tending to the more than 200 individuals that visited the clinic each day.
“I was contacted by a physical therapist I work with in San Antonio. She was going on the trip to Haiti and I told her I was interested,” Richie said. “So I contacted STAND Haiti project, which is organized by two physical therapists that are based out of Oregon. They go to Haiti three times a year for two weeks at a time.”
STAND Haiti project is a nonprofit that gives Haitian residents access to orthopedic rehabilitative services through patient care and clinical training in their country.
When Haiti was struck in 2010 by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the lack of medical care in the country was brought to light, Richie said.
“Part of that is the need for prosthetics and orthotics. Because of the lack of medical care, and even just access to good water and vitamins and medicines, there are multiple birth defects,” Richie said. “When people do have a severe injury like a broken arm or leg it will result in some significant issues one of them including amputation.”
The clinic Richie visited serviced the rural area of Port-de-Paix for general medical care — seeing a variety of medical conditions such as infections, fractures and congenital deformities.
“These were conditions that we normally wouldn’t see in the United States like rickets, which is lack of vitamin D, or cholera, typhoid and malaria,” Richie said. “Part of it is because of bad hygiene and lack of access to clean water. Congenital deformities can occur because the children don’t get prenatal care.”
Every day people traveled miles to arrive at the clinic, many of them arriving at 4 a.m. to line up outside even though the clinic open until 8 a.m., Richie said.
“We started at 8 o’clock and we didn’t stop till the last patient was seen, which could be 6 or 7 at night,” he said. “When you go in the morning there are people lined up and sitting down. They bring their lunch and travel four, five, six hours. If they live far away they won’t feed their families for a couple of days to save up for transportation to come to the clinic.”
Before leaving to Haiti, Richie put out a call-to-action on his businesses’ Facebook page looking for old outgrown orthotic gear that could be repurposed.
“We got a ton of things. We got used prosthetics, used feet, socks. We received a lot of used AFO, KFOs — knee ankle foot bracing,” he said. “We received some walkers and crutches.”
Richie added that every single piece allowed him to reconstruct new pieces to fit the individual who needed them.
“Here at my office, I have a full lab. I can make anything and I have full access to all the materials I ever need to make a band new prosthesis including brand new knees, feet, liners,” Richie said. “At the clinic, we had three pieces of equipment, which was a heat gun and a grinder and a vacuum pump. In my clinic here in the United States I have probably 15 to 20 different pieces that we use every day, but in Haiti, you don’t have any of that stuff.”
On several occasions, Richie would construct a new piece from different ones.
“I was asked to come to consult on a patient who had both bones below the knee that was broken and it was not repaired properly,” he said. “The bone had actually come through the skin and as described to me the doctor that fixed it in Haiti just simply cut the bone that was sticking out of the leg off and sewed that wound shut and that was all they did.”
Richie took what was available to him and took the parts of three different braces and modified them for the patient.
“I cut, heated and modified it to fit his leg. Essentially what I did was I took a right brace and made a left brace with it,” Richie said. “Then I took the back of the right brace and made it into the left back brace. It was just amazing that we were able to actually come up with something that was extremely functional and effective. It allowed the patient to walk without pain. It stabilized the fracture. It wasn’t pretty, but it was super duper effective.”
When you’re in a place with limited resources you learn how to drop all of your “blinders,” Richie said.
“You have to look at the whole picture. When you walk into the store you have to think this is the problem we’re trying to address, these are the things I have available to me right now so how can I put them together right now to have a positive outcome. We did that over and over again,” he said.
Richie said the most difficult thing was seeing how little access the people had to resources.
“These were things that we literally take for granted. It’s tough to get adjusted here after having been through that clinic and seeing how little people have,” Richie said. “We’ll go to lunch and spent $15 to $20 and that’s a ton of money for those people. Simple things like taking a shower and you leave the water running — they don’t do that because they don’t have access to clean water.”
Every single person he encountered though was very grateful for the help, Richie said.
“They were just super glad to have help to stabilize whatever their issue was,” he said. “I actually exchanged emails with a couple of people and one of the folks I’m emailing back was just ‘thank you for helping me. What you did for me allows me to stand and walk and take care of my family.’”
From a medical standpoint, Richie said it was important to educate his patients on how to take better care of themselves.
Richie hopes to make another trip this year to continue educating them, he said.
“I would love to go back to follow up with the patients we did see, but also to continue to help that clinic grow,” he said. “There are two individuals that are Haitians that along the way have learned. When I was there I taught them a few things. They learned a lot and picked it up quickly. So I want to continue their education because the goal of the clinic is to teach them to sustain themselves. Its kind of like the lord says ‘instead of giving a man a fish, teach him how to fish then he can support himself.’”
Valerie Bustamante is a staff writer for the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.