Haitian amputees face uncertain future

The Miami HeraldJanuary 25, 2010 

Airport lawn-care man Basaney Simon lost his right leg in last week's earthquake. He fears it will cost him his job.

"I don't know if they will have me back with one leg," he said as he lay nursing his bandaged leg at a makeshift University of Miami emergency clinic here.

Simon is one of untold thousands of Haitians who lost limbs in the catastrophic earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.

He will struggle to rehabilitate in a city that thrives on physical labor, and doctors are predicting that many amputees will languish or even die without proper follow-up care, or access to prosthetic limbs or crutches.

His wife, Simon said, has already abandoned him for the countryside because he cannot provide for her and their 1-year-old son.

Statistics are not yet available for the number of new amputees, but some hospitals were reporting as many as 30 surgeries a day immediately following the quake, Mirta Roses, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, said Sunday.

"My impression [is that] there will be thousands of amputations -- and that nearly half may have lost more than one limb," she said.

Making the future all the more uncertain was the virtual destruction of Healing Hands for Haiti, the only full-time prosthetic limb manufacturer and rehabilitation clinic in Port-au-Prince. Organizers cannot enter their unsafe building to see whether more than $100,000 in prosthetic limb-making equipment can be salvaged.

The blow will be devastating in a country where women haul goods on their heads, men hawk fruits on the streets and families trudge up hills to their homes.

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