To Haiti and Back: New Beginnings, on New Legs

Admantha Lizaire is a pretty typical twenty-something. She enjoys watching music videos and has plans to return to school soon to study cosmetology. But on January 12 at 9:53 p.m., she was descending the stairs from the third floor of her home in Port-au-Prince, when her world changed forever.

lab-5

The 7.0 magnitude quake that struck Haiti’s capital city caused the university adjacent to her home to crumble and fall, crushing her house. The disaster pinned Admantha under debris for a day, until she was discovered by rescuers. When she was pulled from the rubble, Admantha was alive, but had two completely shattered legs.

lab-10

Doctors in Port-au-Prince amputated both legs, one above the knee and one below. On January 31, a few weeks after her surgeries, a rescue helicopter transported her to Milot, to continue her treatment at Hopital Sacre Coeur.

lab-1

Last week, Admantha got a piece of her life back – prosthetic legs created by (above, left to right) Lance Suggs, a prosthetic technician, Kim Thomas, an orthotist and prosthetic resident, and Aaron Jacobsen, a prosthetist and orthotist, all of Dynamic Orthotics and Prosthetics in Houston, Texas. Aaron, Kim and Lance arrived in Milot shortly after the “North State for Haiti” volunteer medical relief team I traveled with. The trio from Dynamic was the third wave in an ongoing tide of professional prosthetist and orthotist volunteers at Hopital Sacre Coeur.

Weekly teams from Dynamic will manufacture artificial limbs for each of the 52 amputees who arrived in Milot after the quake in Port-au-Prince. The teams may create limbs for even more earthquake victims who have amputations after treatments for prolonged injuries fail.

lab-6

Their workshop in Haiti is a Jacksonville, Florida Port Authority container, transformed into a complete, well-functioning prothetics lab (with the best air conditioning in Milot). It came about after Mike Richard, founder of Advanced Prosthetics and Orthotics, and plastic surgeon Dr. John Lovejoy teamed up. They partnered with sponsors and raised funds to outfit the container with tools, machinery and supplies and shipped it to Cap-Haitien, where it traveled by truck to Milot.

lab-9

Despite the credentials of the team members and their enthusiasm for changing lives with artificial limbs, operating a prosthetics lab in a developing nation isn’t without its challenges. Even in the best conditions, plaster and wet resin — two essential lab supplies — only survive one year in optimal environmental conditions. Temperature is important to ensure success of a prosthetic’s final lamination, and a sealed cargo container in Haiti’s heat and humidity is less than ideal.

lab-4

In addition, new machinery needs components and the lab always needs supplies, so each group makes a list for the next team, who bring the supplies they need for a week’s work. You know what they say about the best laid plans. Last week, Aaron and team ordered last-minute resin by courier before they left Ft. Lauderdale for Haiti and bought plaster from a local ceramicist to make due until a shipment arrived in Milot.

lab-7

In addition to creating legs for above-knee (AK) and below-knee (BK) amputees, the team functions as orthotics multi-taskers. A steady stream of walk-in patients arrive at the lab for cast removals, walking boots, splints and lumbar braces. They are also prosthesis educators, guiding patients down the tedious task of fitting new limbs and mentoring them through the long process of learning to walk with mechanical legs.

lab-11

When I arrived in Haiti, I didn’t expect a crash course in prosthetics, but I got one. I shadowed the team as they created Admantha’s legs, from anatomical measurements to casting, molding, plastic socket, lamination, modifications and final fittings, all in the course of three days.

lab-12

Those three days of anticipation must have felt like an eternity for Admantha. It sure did for me, the Sacre Coeur volunteers and the “North State for Haiti” team members who treated Admantha in the tents and fell in love with her infectious smile and indominable spirit.

lab-13

The anticipation turned to celebration three days after Aaron, Kim and Lance made the first cast of Admantha’s residual limbs. Once her new legs’ components were assembled, Aaron and Kim made some final adjustments. Finally, Admantha stood on one leg and then two.

Once on two legs, there was no stopping her. “Marche, marche,” were her first words as she stood tall after almost seven months in a wheelchair. Admantha wanted to walk. She won’t have any trouble in that regard.

“She can control that knee pretty well,” says Aaron, who fit Admantha for her AK prosthesis. She was so eager to use her new legs that she wouldn’t stand still for him to make some preliminary adjustments.

lab-14

As Admantha’s muscles change and tissue falls where it falls, she can have her artificial limbs adjusted by Dynamic’s parent company in Port-au-Prince. That’s the easy part. Admantha admits to tremendous residual post-traumatic fear from the earthquake and a day under rubble. Every vibrating machine or rumbling of a truck over the speed bump on the street outside the tents sends her into an earthquake memory-induced panic, a reaction she may have for the rest of her life.

lab-8

But I am confident that she won’t let it stop her. Aaron, Kim and Lance, who normally assist patients for a week or more with balance on new limbs, nervously watched Admantha walk solo down the ramp from the lab until they finally insisted on wheeling her across a patch of unstable gravel. Back at her tent, however, she was adamant about making a grand entrance to show off her new legs.

Admantha Lizaire lost her home and family, both legs, and seven months of her young life. With this single brave act, she proved that a catastrophe that took so much would ultimately not beat her.

Find earlier installments of “To Haiti and Back” by Adam Mankoski here.

The team is accepting donations for CRUDEM. Make checks payable to CRUDEM and send to P.O. Box 633, 215 Lake Blvd, Redding, CA 96003.

For more information about CRUDEM and Hopital Sacre Coeur, visit crudem.org.

Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to adamm.anewscafe@gmail.com.


Avatar
is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner are the owners of HawkMan Studios and the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday Art Hop.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

18 Responses

  1. Avatar Viki Twyman says:

    What a heart warming story. A very brave young lady with an amazing attitude.

  2. Avatar Troy Hawkins says:

    Amazing young lady and kudos to the team that gave her a new lease on life. I am so humbled by the people of Haiti as well as all of those who donate their time and expertise to bring those in need a little dignity and hope. Great jog team from Redding.

    • Avatar Tanya says:

      Well said Troy. Would be nice if more people spent their time thanking this team other than criticizing them.

  3. Avatar Luke says:

    You have been an awsome witness with your stories and photos. Thank you for informing so many people about the challenges and heartwarming struggles of this young women, representative of so many others in Haiti!

  4. Avatar Celeste White says:

    Wonderful story! Well told, and so inspiring!

  5. Avatar Susan Daugherty says:

    Beautiful story, Adam. Thanks for taking us along with you by reporting in your inclusive style. It is wonderful to see volunteers making a difference in the lives of the Haitian people and good for all of us to be reminded of the capabilities of the human spirit.

  6. Avatar Barbara Jordan says:

    Adam, you captured it.

  7. Avatar Sandy T. says:

    Wow, that one brought tears to my eyes. It's amazing how many good people we have in the world. Thanks Adam

  8. Avatar Sandy Thomas, Inwood says:

    I have been keeping up with your articles through the paper all the way from Northwest Iowa!! I am so impressed with the strength these people are showing us in the midst of all that they have lost. You captured the beauty of the Haitian people and the volunteers that love them soo much. Keep on writing and you need to go back. I know my friends are going back again and again. They have grown to love them so much.

  9. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    Adam, Thank you for being such a dynamic and eloquent reporter. You manage to help us feel the tragedy . . . but with a spirit of hope.

  10. Avatar Aaron says:

    Hi Adam Thank you for reporting her story- I think you really captured her spirit in your writing. It was truely a privilege and a blessing to be able to work with these earthquake survivors. Please let Dr Luke from your group know that the shinker for his little boy worked great. He was back to normal the night that you left.

  11. Avatar Tanya says:

    WOW!!! Adam this story choked me up more than once…..You guys are special people for going to help and report this. Your my hero Ferris………

  12. Avatar Kim says:

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU Adam! It was so wonderful to hear your experience of our work in Haiti. I am so glad you had to chance to see what we do and to bring it back to the people at home. Your story has been forwarded to my entire family and friends and they are all so pleased to be able to put the pictures and words you shared with the memories I got to tell. I cannot wait to read the rest of your articles from Haiti.

  13. Avatar Erik says:

    Amazing article! Thank you for spreading your expertise in the area of prosthetists to the people of Haiti. We are thankful for your effort on their behalf.

  14. Avatar John Tappouras says:

    Thanks for your article,

    I am technically able to help in Haiti and would be much obliged for crash course in basic prosthedic work.please tell me how to apply.

    Many Thanks

    Kind Regards

    John Tappouras

    Mo. 0437994254 Australia Sydney

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      John – We went to Milot, Haiti and Hopital Sacre Coure as volunteers for CRUDEM, the umbrella organization for the hospital. You may want to contact them to see what their current needs are. I know that volunteers are traveling there all the time. Best of luck. My week in Haiti was life changing.
      http://www.crudem.org/

      I know that there is also great need in Port-au-Prince. A little online research about the organizations there will yield many volunteer opportunities.

      Adam

  15. Avatar John Tappouras says:

    Adam- Thanks kindly for your email and am keen to pursue skills in prosthetics as I am very sure that I can be of assistance as a volunteer.Now gaining access to to the Haiti hospital and who I should speak to is my present concern.Or is there a contact person here in Australia that I should speak to?

    Many Thanks
    John

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      John – I just received this email from CRUDEM:

      Cholera has arrived in Milot. We are being hit hard. The number of cholera patients has gone from 2 to 30 to over 60 in a matter of days and is sure to rise further. We are back in crisis mode and need volunteers to care for these victims.

      The tents have been converted to an isolation ward. We need nurses, 10-15 per week, particularly those skilled with IV access. We would love to have several physicians per week, particularly internists, family practice, pediatricians, ER, critical care specialists. The care will be labor intensive but simple – oral and IV hydration, managing electrolytes.

      If you are able and willing to make another trip to Hopital Sacre Coeur, we need you now. If you have friends and colleagues that have the skills we need, please ask them to consider going. Deb Motyl is in charge of scheduling and travel arrangements. Please send her the following items:

      An updated CMMB form
      A 2×2 picture such as a copy

      If you will be a first-time volunteer, please also send a copy of your license and completed volunteer information form.

      Please send results to Deb either by scanning the information and sending to Deb at dmotyl@radiusmanagement.com or mail to Deb at 868 Stony Hill Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095.

      Thank you for considering serving the sick and the poor of Haiti again. They need you now as much as ever.

      William B. Guyol, Jr., MD
      wbguyol@me.com
      314-550-2010

      Best of Luck.