First Steps: Haiti Six Months After the Quake

Six months ago, the Haiti earthquake took Wilfred Macena's leg. Today, he and the doctors of Project Medishare stand as a sign of hope amidst the rubble. As the country begins its long process of rebuilding, will you help?

Wilfred Macena is a handsome 25-year-old with a quick laugh and a nearly relentless smile. On the 12th of January, he was working as a welder when the earth shook, and a wall caved in right on top of him. His femur shattered. He was left alone to pull up the bottom half of his leg and carry it with him on a horrific seven-day journey, during which he nearly died. Luckily, the cousin he finally reached had a vehicle. But Macena's wounds could not be healed with a simple ride to a hospital. Even before the quake, Haiti was desperately lacking in quality doctors. So in order to find proper medical care, Macena—like anyone with any means in Haiti—had to find a way to get out of the country.

Six months after the devastating quake rocked one of the poorest nations in the developing world, downed power lines are still draped over the steel bars and jagged concrete mounds that litter the Port-au-Prince landscape. The recovery has barely begun. Yet amidst the rubble, a hospital now stands, filled with volunteer doctors and nurses diligently tending to the still-healing wounds of the Haitian people.

Project Medishare, an organization with ties to the University of Miami and more than twenty years of experience in Haiti, has flown these volunteers down twice a week on chartered flights ever since that horrific day, to provide desperately lacking medical care to those who need it most.

Haiti has produced many great doctors, but relatively few remain in the country. With bountiful opportunities in places like the U.S. and Europe, qualified specialists are often tempted by the high incomes and quality of life they receive by practicing abroad. This leaves Haiti with a brain drain: There are no neurosurgeons or heart-surgeons practicing in the entire country, no designated burn-units, and few resources for pediatric care. Project Medishare is looking to change this by building a training hospital to produce the next generation of Haitian based medical practitioners.

Macena is one of the thousands of patients served by Project Medishare, and if his story is any indication of the potential, there is reason for hope. The Dominican doctor who treated the young man referred him to Project Medishare for treatment—right in his homeland. At Medishare's field hospital, his severed leg was properly cared for, and he was fitted for a custom prosthesis (see slide show, below). Within a day of receiving his new leg, Wilfred not only walked, but also kicked around a soccer ball.

When his recovery was complete and the day came to return home, Wilfred, an above-the-knee amputee, walked into the arms of his wife and young child with the pride of not only a new leg but also a new job. His attitude and recovery was such an inspiration that the Project Medishare team offered him a position to help train other Haitians who lost their limbs take their first steps towards recovery.

In a country where hundreds of thousands are now shielding themselves in tent cities, rebuilding will take years and there are no quick solutions. Without a strong infrastructure or adequate medical care Haiti's growth will be stymied. Yet amidst the challenge, stories like Wilfred's' provide a sense of what is possible.

Project Medishare has saved countless lives since the disaster, and has recently moved the field hospital to a permanent structure. Their work is now to build a comprehensive critical care hospital and training facility, which will not only save lives but also help create a sustainable medical infrastructure for generations of Haitians to come.

Macena is a testament to their work and continues to work with Project Medishare's medical team in fulfilling their mission to help all Haitians rise up and walk again.

After the quake there was an amazing outpouring of support both nationally and internationally, with more than half of American households contributing to the relief effort. As the cameras turned to other disasters, however, so too did most people's attention. Six months later, Haiti is left in the infancy of the rebuilding process, with decades of work ahead.

Want to help? Donate to Project Medishare, or click here to learn How to Volunteer in Haiti.

Story by Michael Trainer, originally published July 2010 on Tonic.

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