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Alicia Whitaker

Alicia Whitaker

Posted: February 25, 2010 12:18 PM

Now that the Olympics are winding down, with endless images of healthy young people doing amazing and often dangerous feats of athleticism, media coverage is returning to the ongoing dilemmas in Haiti. A recent New York Times article focused on the extraordinary number of amputations performed as a result of the earthquake.

Of course record keeping in a country where an already fragile infrastructure has been destroyed is difficult, but the Times reported that 6,000 to 8,000 people have lost limbs or digits and that 2,000 to 4,000 amputations have been performed. In past quakes of similar magnitude, amputations have numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands. They are the defining injury of this earthquake.

We've learned that many of these amputations were performed in very primitive conditions, in makeshift hospitals, often after days of delay that caused ruinous infections. Amputations have saved lives but have created enormous challenges for people who may have lost their jobs, homes, families and support for rehabilitation and follow up care. And the harsh reality of life in Haiti with this type of disability is that people are often treated as outcasts and are unemployable.

NYC dermatologist and internist Dr. David Colbert from the New York Dermatology Group was one of the physicians who responded to the emergency by volunteering to provide medical care. Dr. Colbert and his Medical Assistant Paul Hogue spent a week in Haiti in the beginning of February and experienced the avalanche of amputations and related follow up care. See excerpts from his New York Post video diary here.

Colbert is a dermatologist in New York City whose practice includes A-list models and actors and where the order of the day is keeping the already beautiful wrinkle-free and youthful. What many don't know is that he speaks fluent French, has a specialty in wound care, has worked as an emergency room physician and is a dermatological surgeon. He has also served on medical missions to Cambodia and other parts of the world experiencing environmental or political disasters. A Haitian physician, Dr. Peggy Regis, is a member of his team in New York.

As a result of his experience in Haiti, Colbert's team has established a not-for-profit foundation to raise money for prosthetics and related medical supplies and services. The NYDG Foundation is partnering with ARIMED Orthotics and Prosthetics to provide prosthesis for Haitians with limb-loss. They will hold a fundraiser on Thursday, May 6 at Scholastic, Inc, at 557 Broadway in Soho.

I came back from Haiti believing that one of the most important things we can do to help now is to find a way to make available the prosthetics and related services that people will need to function again. If each of us does one little thing, it can add up to a very big thing, so I believe that we can raise money for a prosthetics clinic in Port au Prince--that will make a difference.

Many celebrities and prominent New Yorkers have offered to participate, and an auction will feature works from artists Jack Pierson, Jill Moser, Shawn Dulaney, Kelly Walker, and EJ Camp, and clothes from well-known fashion designers.

Joining Colbert as hosts for the fund raiser are Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Helmut Lang, and L'Wren Scott.

Prosthetics are costly -- the average cost in the US is around $6,000, but can easily reach $25,000 -- few are available in Haiti and there are enormous issues related to custom-fitting them, repairing them and replacing them when they break or when people grow out of them. In addition, people need physical therapy to learn how to use them.

As Haiti continues to dig out of the tragedy and as the world organizes its longer term response, it's clear that there needs to be new thinking about social change in Haiti as well as the health resources to support such a large group of mostly very young amputees. Initiatives such as Colbert's provide hope that there will be resources to meet the need.

 

Follow Alicia Whitaker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rawhitaker