Mause-Darline Francois is too weak to stand on her own and has over the past 26 years grown accustomed to relying on assistance for moving around Haiti’s rough terrain. But as long as she has leg braces for support, she does not consider herself handicapped.
“Being handicapped is when you want to do something but you can’t, because of the external environment. I am handicapped when I do not have my orthoses,” she said.
Last year, Francois found herself in a Red Cross-supported clinic in Port-au-Prince for an orthotic repair. Since its inauguration in May 2012, the Klinik Kay Kapab has assisted hundreds of patients to regain their mobility by providing them with prosthetics – artificial limbs – or orthotics – stabilizing or corrective braces – and physical rehabilitation services.
Thousands of Haitians lost limbs following the country’s January 2010 earthquake, making movement throughout their rocky and potholed communities a grueling task.
The Klinik Kay Kapab, funded by the American Red Cross and the global Red Cross network, and operated in partnership by Healing Hands for Haiti and Handicap International, is a monumental achievement in health services for the impoverished population.
Through a system that allows patients to pay for services based on what they can afford, virtually nobody gets turned away.
“Over the past few months, we’ve seen about 70 percent of the patients able to fully pay their dues,” said Philias Manouchka, a clinic social worker. Financial assistance is often available for patients who are unable to pay in full.
Since the earthquake, many Haitians are noticing a shift in local attitudes toward those with physical disabilities.
“In general, Haitians used to think that if you were handicapped, you weren’t good for anything,” said Francois, a Program Assistant for Christian Blind Mission, a nonprofit organization. “But the January 12 earthquake has changed people’s perceptions. Now people have this desire to help the handicapped, to show compassion, because they believe it could have happened to them.”
Even beyond the affordable physical rehabilitation it offers to the community, the clinic takes an additional critical step toward providing holistic healing by offering mental health support as well. Manouchka ensures patients are evaluated for any emotional trauma, which commonly arises following loss of limbs and other physical disability.
“Not everyone needs the support, but we’re here for those who do, especially children,” said Manouchka in 2012. “We do assist quite a few children, including those who were born with handicaps.”
With the combination of physical and mental support, the clinic staff often find encouragement when patients begin to believe in what they can do with their new limbs.
“I remember a woman came here who had both legs amputated after the earthquake,” said Dr. Pascal Kodjo, the head of the clinic’s in-house prosthetic workshop. The woman, a hair stylist, became a patient at Klinik Kay Kapab after her attempt at using prosthetic devices from another country proved uncomfortable without the necessary rehabilitation. With new prostheses and reeducation, “she’s now able to stand up; she told me she wants to start working again,” Kodjo said.
The American Red Cross provided more than $1.3 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross Special Fund for the Disabled to support the clinic’s operations. In addition to physical therapy and counseling services, the clinic’s partnership with Handicap International supported the on-site production of more than 600 lower-limb prosthetic and orthotic devices over the past year.