Seven Prosthetic Arms for Children and Youths in Haiti

Otto Bock Foundation and LandsAid Join Forces to Help

Prosthetic arms have been provided for the first time to a larger number of victims from the earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010. The joint project of the Otto Bock Foundation and the aid organisation LandsAid e.V. focuses on young people. Ways to provide especially challenging fittings in Germany are now being investigated as part of these efforts.

Group photo of the Otto Bock and LandsAid employees outside the LandsAid workshop in Port au Prince, with four out of a total of seven patients who received fittings

Compared to lower limb prosthetics, providing orthopaedic technology fittings with artificial arms is much more elaborate and complex. Ulrich Müller and Dieter Storck, experienced specialists with Otto Bock HealthCare, headed out on behalf of the Otto Bock Foundation with three additional suitcases for 70 kilograms of prosthetic components. They had developed individual fitting plans based on the available patient documentation and gathered the necessary components, which were financed by LandsAid.

They arrived on the day the long-awaited run-off election results were released in Haiti. "Fortunately everything remained quiet in the streets," Storck reports. The well-equipped workshop was set up in a vacant building in Port-au-Prince by LandsAid in cooperation with the Haiti Red Cross. Here the two prosthetists fitted seven patients with prosthetic arms over a period of two weeks. Meeting the often high expectations in terms of functionality and aesthetic appearance requires extensive technical expertise and experience. Furthermore, electronic prosthetics are not advisable because of the cost and lack of infrastructure for subsequent technical service in such a poor country.

Dieter Storck prepares Mikerline’s upper arm residual limb for the plaster cast

Even though the technicians were unable to really get to know their patients personally in such a short time, it was readily apparent that the traumatic experiences 15 months ago have not been overcome. "There were a lot of tears. Sometimes there was disappointment because the patient envisioned the artificial arm differently, and at other times relief that someone is here after such a long time to finally build the promised arm prosthesis," Müller says.

The idea for the cooperative project came up a year earlier when Dirk Growe, Managing Director of LandsAid and Karl-Heinz Burghardt and Johanna Haebler of the Otto Bock Foundation met in Haiti during the inauguration of a hospital. "We want people to be able to walk again, but also to hug each other again," says Growe, summarising why LandsAid as one of the first organisations active in Haiti has committed to provide upper limb in addition to lower limb prosthetics.

Three very intent young patients awaited the German upper limb prosthetic experts in the workshop on the first day of their assignment. Just organising their transportation in Haiti is a major challenge, which was overcome by LandsAid coordinator Eva Suhren. One of the chosen patients simply could not be found again. "But all in all we were lucky," Müller says with satisfaction. "The patients were very motivated and disciplined. They came to their agreed appointments." The tight schedule was followed without any major delays. "Recurring power failures did pose something of a problem," Storck admits.

Both technicians have been involved in numerous international projects and are familiar with the difficulties and problems that arise in crisis regions. But Haiti represented a major challenge for them. Just documenting the fittings is difficult, since many patients have no fixed address and are still living in tent cities with their families.

Luciano tests the control of functions offered by his new arm prosthesis

Nine-year-old Luciano is one of them. He proved to be a bright young man and understood immediately when Müller explained something to him on how to use the prosthesis: "When you disengage the lock, the elbow joint is released." Luciano received a cosmetic prosthesis and practiced avidly with it. "Children and youths frequently see all this more playfully, without prejudice," Storck noted when he was taking a plaster cast of the residual upper arm on 14-year-old Mikerline in order to subsequently fabricate a custom prosthetic socket.

Motivating patients to do their part, even after the fitting, is very important. Therapists of another cooperation partner, the Magen David Adom at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, are helping to loosen up the extremely hardened musculature. The higher the amputation level, the more purposeful training is required. Only once the right movements and the proper use of the prosthesis have been practiced over the course of weeks and months with professional therapists can the prosthesis be used to full advantage.

Jean Woodline watches as Dieter Storck adjusts her new arm prosthesis

21-year-old Mireille was hit particularly hard. Because of recurring infections, doctors had to complete seven follow-up amputations from a relatively long forearm residual limb to the current shoulder amputation. "In many cases, the residual limb conditions would be better if different medical conditions had prevailed," says Storck. Here the technicians encountered the limits of what can be done in Haiti. The Otto Bock Foundation is now investigating whether the young woman can be brought to Germany for a fitting, and is also hoping for donations to the Help for Haiti aid project.

Otto Bock Foundation donation account:

Sparkasse Duderstadt
ABA: 260 512 60
account number: 448
IBAN DE16 2605 1260 0000 0021 21

Volksbank Eichsfeld-Northeim
ABA: 260 612 91
account number: 178 004 0
IBAN DE90 2606 1291 0001 7800 40

Keyword: "Hilfe für Haiti"

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