Doctors: Help Needed to Get Haiti 'Walking'

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PORT-AU-PRINCE - Inside Haiti's largest hospital is the grim picture of an unfolding health crisis.

The majority of patients are facing a future without hands or legs.

"Many amputations have had to be done already and more will follow," orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Witschi said.

Witschi is an orthopedic surgeon from New York's Mt. Sinai Medical Center. The day CBN News met him, he had already performed a dozen amputations.

"Ninety percent of the patients, roughly, have fractures of one sort or another," he explained.

When the earthquake struck, 24-year-old Madreas was at home cooking in the kitchen.

"I tried to run out but a wall collapsed on me and I was pinned down for a day," she recalled.

The Red Cross rescued her and brought her to the national hospital in Port-au-Prince.

"My leg was crushed. I could see my bones sticking out," Madreas said. "I knew my condition was not good."

A day after losing her leg Madreas and many others like her living in the courtyard of the hospital are too scared to think about the future.

"I just cannot even imagine what I am going to do," she said. "I'm still so young for this to have happened to me."

The earthquake is creating a generation of amputees. Some estimate that as many as 200,000 Haitians will end up losing one or more limbs.

Such injuries typically take a month or more to heal, but the conditions at the hospital and across the devastated city are anything but first-rate.

"The open tents and of course the heat and the lack of complete sanitary facilities are not conducive to the best optimal conditions," Witschi said.

There's also the challenge of getting prosthetics.

Before the earthquake, Healing Hands for Haiti was the largest manufacturer of prosthetic hands and feet. Now the group has to start from scratch after the quake severely damaged its shops.

"Normally, before the earthquake it was estimated that 800,000 people in Haiti needed rehabilitation. And now, with the new developments, this number has increased," explained Antonia Kebreau of Healing Hands for Haiti said. "We need help. We need help."

And help is coming. Various humanitarian groups are rushing to manufacture new prosthesis. Meanwhile, other aid groups are collecting used prosthetics, crutches, canes, walkers and wheelchairs for earthquake victims.

Like so many victims in Haiti, Madreas will need weeks of healing and long-term rehabilitation. Yet, she knows just how fortunate she is to be lying in bed, despite her circumstances.

"Even though I can't imagine how I am going to cope, at least I know I am alive," she said. "So many others have died. I'm thankful for my life."

*Originally aired on January 28, 2010.

Special Section:

Haiti Earthquake & Recovery

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