By Alyson Cavanaugh
As a physical therapist who first volunteered in Haiti in March, I have seen much heartache and suffering. However, some days are better than others.
About two weeks after moving from the tent hospital to Bernard Mevs hospital, a pick-up truck entered the hospital grounds. A man was begging the hospital workers to admit the patient who was lying in the back of the pick-up truck. I didn’t get the whole story, but my understanding was that the patient had a deep wound. Because wound care is a division of the Rehabilitation department, I made the decision to look at the wound and then determine if the case could be handled on an in-patient or out-patient basis. As I stepped onto the pick-up truck, I saw the man’s eyes get big as he said my name “Alyson.”
The patient was Andre, a 19-year old who was shot in the neck and paralyzed back in March when I first started as a volunteer with Project Medishare. He clearly did not expect to still see me in Haiti three months later. Andre was admitted to the hospital that day with a stage IV sacral ulcer. His family had taken out his catheter because it was dirty and they never sought any additional medical care. His urine had leaked and made his skin wet while he lay in bed at home. Eventually, his skin broke down into the severe wound that I was looking at in the back of the pick-up truck.
The next few months were very difficult for both Andre and myself. Clearly depressed, Andre refused to eat, refused therapy, and often gave problems to the nurses who were trying to care for him. Andre had a surgical procedure for his wound that failed due to lack of nutrition. At his young age, he just wasn’t healing. And worse than that, his spirit was dying as well. This was not the same kid who I met in March.
Yet, things began to change about one month ago. Andre’s fiancé gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I was there the first time he held her in his arms. Andre, who refused to participate in therapy because his arms were “no good,” this young man suddenly had a goal to strengthen his arms to hold his daughter.
This story touched another American who was down in Haiti working. Chris, who works for another organization in Haiti, was merely taking a tour of the hospital that day. When Chris saw Andre and heard the story about his daughter, he pledged to help. He knew Andre was concerned about providing for his daughter so he agreed to finance the child’s schooling until she turned 18 years old. Andre was relieved, but still was struggling with his current condition. But Chris gave much more than money; he also gave Andre friendship. After that first day of meeting, Chris came to visit Andre several times a week after work. He sat with Andre and they talked. It was amusing to witness. Chris and Andre often didn’t use an interpreter, but as I walked by I would see them pointing and laughing. I have no idea what half of those conversations were about, but I knew that I was slowly and surely seeing the Andre I once knew back in March.
Andre’s spirits were improving. He could be seen sitting out in his chair on the pavilion for most of the day talking and joking with whoever passed by. Then, about one week ago, Andre met Pasha out on the courtyard of Bernard Mevs. Pasha is a quadriplegic who lives in Haiti. He is independent in mobility through a wheelchair that uses a “sip-and-puff” technology. Pasha is financially stable, intelligent, and well respected throughout Haiti. Andre had teasingly been calling himself “Ti Pasha” or little
Pasha for several months. However, he was more than a little intimidated to approach Pasha. With a little prodding, Andre eventually spoke with Pasha. Andre was able to witness how a man with quadriplegia is still able to contribute to society. Pasha spoke with Andre about a number of different things in caring for himself in order to stay healthy. For the following week, Andre finally ate willingly. He even asked for more food. He drank his protein shakes without any arguments. And for the first time in months, his wound started to improve.
Within one month’s time, this depressed teenager turned into a grown man. He gained a beautiful daughter, a friend, and a role model. But more importantly than that, he gained a chance at life again. I want to give a very special thank you to all of the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and rehabilitation staff who have worked with Andre over the past few months.
Thank you for not giving up on his lost spirit. I am writing to share this story with all of you so that you may also celebrate in the success.