Disabled Workers in Haiti Are Producing Prosthetics for 2010 Earthquake Victims

A group of disabled workers from Haiti who lost limbs during the 2010 earthquake is now helping other amputees obtain prosthetics.

In an exclusive report from the Associated Press, a man who lost his leg during the devastating earthquake that rocked the island in 2010 has now built over 3,000 prostheses for others in Haiti.

Wilfrid Macena, who was a welder before the earthquake, told the AP his right leg was crushed by a collapsed wall at the garage he was working in. He was unable to get to a hospital for seven days, which caused his knee to become infected and then amputated.

A few weeks after the procedure, he told the AP that he came across St. Vincent’s Center, an institution run by Haiti’s Episcopal Church, in Port-au-Prince where a group of disabled workers made him his first artificial leg. Macena said that getting his new artificial leg felt like he “got a brand new life.”

After the procedure, one of the center’s workers asked him to join the team, saying it was similar to Macena’s previous job. By July 2010, Macena had built his first prosthetic, which took three days.

Nine years after the earthquake, the former welder said he has made more than 3,000 prosthetics, now taking only four hours each.

The center’s workers who make the prosthetics were all taught by Emmanuel Celicourt, a 60-year-old man who is unable to speak but has been making prosthetics at the center for decades.

Reverend Frantz Cole, the spiritual director of the center, claimed the prostheses program began in the 1950s.

“We try to provide service mostly to those who have nothing,” he told the AP. “When someone gets amputated, he thinks that is the end of his life.... But [a prosthetic] is like a new beginning for a patient.”

Since the earthquake in 2010, the center’s workers have made about 8,000 prosthetics, the publication reported. Macena said he enjoys working at the center and is able to relate to patients who need prosthetics.

“People understand me better than someone who has two legs,” Macena told the AP. Following the earthquake in 2010, more than 2,000 people lost limbs and suffered amputations, the World Health Organization officials previously told NPR.

Humanity & Inclusion, formerly known as Handicap International, stated in the wake of the earthquake that it planned to treat the more than 2,000 amputees injured during the quake. The organization maintained two mobile medical teams in Port-au-Prince and were providing care in eight hospitals in the area.

“This is due to the sheer number of the injured — 250,000 people according to the U.N. — and the destruction of health facilities. In emergency situations, doctors often have no other choice but to amputate. In the massive earthquakes in China in 2008 and Pakistan in 2005, the situation was less critical as hospitals were still working efficiently,” Thomas Calvot, a specialist in care management of earthquake victims, said in a statement.

“In Haiti, no organization is in a position to cover all the needs in this area. We are already working with partner organizations in order to take care of the maximum number of injured people, in a coordinated manner,” Calvot continued.

Humanity & Inclusion’s medical teams provided rehabilitation care and established a long-term, follow-up system for their patients. Dr. Colleen O’Connell, a Canadian rehabilitation specialist, said in a statement that the best way to treat and help amputees learn to use their new limbs is to keep moving.

“You must keep your joints moving,” O'Connell said. “You must do exercises every day to avoid muscular contraction. This is vital in order to fit you with an artificial limb later on.”

New technology has also helped some amputees on the island. In 2014, a 12-year-old Haitian boy who was handicapped from birth was the first person in the nation to receive a prosthetic made with a 3-D printer, Reuters previously reported.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.