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Utah's Healing Hands for Haiti is good news for the ravaged country

Published January 10, 2011 1:01 am

Help • Recovery charity succeeding far beyond expectations.
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There's a saying among medical professionals: Recovery is hard work. If it's easy, you're doing it wrong.

One year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, good news is hard to find.

But a small, Utah-founded charity specializing in recovery — rehabilitating Haiti's injured and disabled — has not only rebounded, it is succeeding far beyond expectations, even as social and political aftershocks rattle the impoverished island nation.



As donations to most relief organizations slow to a trickle, Healing Hands for Haiti continues to receive impressive amounts of support from around the world. It has amassed more donations in one year than it had over the previous decade.

"Out of this trying time came big players to support us," said Eric Doubt, the organization's executive director.

Among them are Newman's Own Foundation, Handicap International and the International Red Cross Special Fund for the Disabled.

"We were transparent and effective. People had noticed what we had done," Doubt said. "Eleven years of success in building an operation in Haiti has paid off."

After the magnitude 7 quake left its facilities in shambles, the nonprofit responded to increased demand for its services by renting space for a prosthetics shop and clinic, and staffing it with hundreds of volunteer health care workers.

Later this month, Healing Hands will break ground on a $1.8 million rehabilitation hospital to replace the seven damaged buildings on its hillside property in Port-au-Prince. The new facility will be able to serve more people and will raise the level of service in the country where medical needs are staggering.

Healing Hands may be a model for Haitian recovery, but it was the tragedy of Jan. 12, 2010, that led to its new growth.

"It's weird to say, but it's a dream come true for us. We've planned for this facility for years, but never had the money," said Jeff Randle, the Salt Lake City physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor who founded Healing Hands in 1999. "We hired a Haitian rehabilitation specialist and we have enough money to actually pay him a salary."

Still, Randle's joy is tempered by his "heartache" for a country, that by many standards, is worse off now than before the earthquake. The event leveled whole neighborhoods and killed an estimated 230,000 people.

Twelve months later, very little of the rubble has been cleared. More than 1 million people remain homeless. And growing instability in the wake of a raging cholera epidemic and failed presidential election has virtually stopped the flow of foreign aid. It's frustrating, according to Randle.

"They're using the elections as an excuse, but I don't buy that," Randle said. "The United Nations and Bill Clinton [special envoy to Haiti] should be dispensing the money they promised and getting these people into homes. The people are rapidly losing hope."

Despite the chaos, disease and political instability, Healing Hands continues to do what it has always done, helping Haitians — mostly amputees — down the long road to recovery from surgery and injury.

"Currently there are between 8,000 and 10,000 amputees in need of professional care," Doubt said. "We urgently need to rebuild facilities for them."

Another big push by the charity now is training Haitian providers to care for spinal-cord-injury survivors. Last March, Randle visited a small hospital in Haiti where some of these patients had landed.

"There was a guy there who was going to build a hospital for women and children, but realized there was no one to take these spinal-cord folks who require a lot of special care," he said.

Healing Hands now deploys clinicians to train, mentor and provide care to spinal-cord-injury centers throughout Haiti, said Lisa Bagley, a co-founder of Healing Hands and nurse administrator at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

"Prior to the quake, spinal-cord-injury patients were turned away by hospitals and sent home to die," said Bagley. "But the international response showed Haitian hospitals you can stabilize these patients."

Helping Hands for Haiti also provides care and support for hydrocephalic children and their mothers, surgery and therapy for children and adults with club foot, and assistance for children with disabilities as they reintegrate into schools. It also has a program to rehabilitate and maintain wheelchairs.

kstewart@sltrib.comcsmart@sltrib.com —

Want to help?

Donate or volunteer by visiting healinghandsforhaiti.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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