Dr. June Hanks recently spent her 48th birthday in Haiti, sharing her skills as a physical therapist and wound specialist as she responded to the needs of earthquake victims.
According to Hanks, it is estimated 8-10 per cent of Haitians had some form of disability before the earthquake. No one knows the number of amputations performed in Haiti since the earthquake, but she estimates it is more than 4,000. “Amputations are still being performed. There are crush injuries, compression wounds and permanent nerve damage for many people there,” Hanks said.
Hanks, UC Foundation Associate Professor, Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, and Dr. Chris Smith, Coordinator, Family Nurse Practitioner Concentration and Assistant Professor, each spent time in the devastated country and continue to raise awareness, funds and supplies in Chattanooga.
Since 2001, Hanks has served as director of The Advantage Program, assisting those with physically disabling conditions in Haiti. Rehabilitation programs have been established with a prosthetics and orthotics shop, as well as the Bernice Johnson Center, a vocational training program for women with disabilities.
The good news is the fabrication facility for prosthesis and orthotics, located 90 miles outside Port-au-Prince is structurally sound. Hanks trip included patient care, assessment of the situation, and planning for long-term care. She said the fabrication facility will now increase its output, considering the need is great.
Prosthesis will be created for individual patients; used limbs will not be accepted. “Wearing someone else’s prosthesis is like trying to wear someone else’s false teeth. Shape is very important,” Hanks said.
In a country where 75% of the population is unemployed and there are no laws to enforce the hiring of those with disabilities, Hanks sees the post-earthquake Haiti as primed to change the mindset of the people there. “We want to help those who have acquired a disability after the earthquake to gain a voice,” Hanks said. Disabled women who are trained four years in the Bernice Johnson Center are meeting and speaking with those who are newly disabled.
“It was amazing what that peer support did for the encouragement of those who had had an amputation,” Hanks said. “The hospitalized amputees were able to see these women walking around with a well-fitted prosthesis.”
The Step Forward and Reach Out initiative begun by Hanks requests donations for above-knee prosthesis ($225); below-knee prosthesis ($150); or a leg brace ($50).
Dr. Chris Smith works with the Children’s Nutrition Program (CNP) of Haiti, a local organization founded by Dr. Mitch Mutter. The purpose of this group’s outreach focuses on child nutrition in Haiti.
Smith arrived a month after the earthquake. She said by that time, the most traumatic injuries had begun to heal and her involvement was in post operative care and primary care. She said many of the cases she worked on were routine, with one caveat.
“We were seeing a lot of malaria,” Smith said. “And I suspect there will be a lot more malaria, as well as communicable diseases such as dysentery. With bad water sources and the rainy season coming, that will be their next great challenge.”
In the midst of her week in Haiti, among all the devastation where people lacked food and housing, five babies were born—all very healthy, Smith said.
Smith is grateful for proceeds from the UTC Greek Show, where more money than ever before was collected and donated to CNP. The money will be earmarked to purchase specially designed housing kits, which sell for $110 dollars each, and can be turned into permanent housing.
Both Hanks and Smith say they find ways to connect their good works in Haiti to the University. In Hanks case, she was able to teach online and use Skype to demonstrate techniques to students. She often takes new graduates along to work in Haiti as part of her team. Smith said when she returns to campus after volunteering in Haiti, she finds she is less tolerant of students at UTC who complain of a 30-minute wait at University Health Services.
“People in our clinic in Haiti walked for a couple of hours to get there, and then waited 8 and 9 hours in 90 degree heat. I work hard to be sweet to my UTC students, but sometimes they need to look at the other side of the fence,” Smith said.