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2nd Thoughts About Amputations After Haiti Quake

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Michelle Pierre, Orechto Oclord and Jeanne have one thing in common: they have not only seen people around them lose their lives to the January 12 earthquake, but they have lost their limbs to it as well.

Pierre lost his left leg; Oclord lost his right hand; Jeanne lost her right arm -- all in lifesaving amputations after the temblor.

A taxi driver by trade, soccer-mad Pierre was crazy about the South American style of play. But now the only thing he can do is to cross his fingers and hope he could one day sit behind the wheel of his cab again. To him, returning to the soccer pitch is a more distant prospect.

Pierre, 29, told Xinhua stoically that he had decided to devote the rest of his life to religion though he still cherished the dream of returning to taxi driving and soccer playing, for a living and for fun.

Unlike Pierre, four-year-old Oclord could not take the sudden loss of his hand as that matter-of-fact. His continuous crying and weeping worries his father Quersizae about the boy's future at school and at work.

Jeanne, a mother of two who lost her right arm while protecting her eight-month-old baby when the quake struck, was already pondering ways of making a new start in life.

Before the quake, she would lift and put a heavy basket of vegetables on the top of her head before going and selling them at a local fair every day.

"Now I cannot put the basket on top of my head and go out to sell," said the mother, "I will find other things to do because I have to feed my children."

"It is better to lose an arm than to die" was her firm conviction.

Michelle, an American surgeon who asked to be identified only by her given name, felt some comfort from the ease with which those who have undergone amputations have been facing up to the loss of their limbs in the quake.

"I am amazed by the Haitian people, as they are happy," said the American surgeon from Utah who has been working at the Port-au-Prince General Hospital after arriving to join rescue and assistance operations there.

She told Xinhua that local patients had been cooperative and had been showing an attitude of optimism and positive mentality most of the time.

But as the quake-triggered frenzy has started to subside, some quake-injured patients have asked surgeons not to amputate them.

They have a strong appeal for keeping their arms and legs whole for fear that they may not be able to find a job. That has been the most common argument repeated in local hospitals and clinics.

A non-governmental organization, Handicap International, has estimated that there are now between 2,000 and 3,000 quake amputees in Haiti.

An experienced surgeon has warned that quite some of the amputations might have been unnecessary in the rush to pull people from under the rubble. Many limbs were amputated in the days immediately after the quake.

"Often people have cut off a limb in order to pull people out of the rubble," said Herbert Rader who has been working with a Salvation Army clinic for 10 days after his arrival in the Haitian capital. "Rescuers just cut it (the limb) off. Aftershocks were frightening everyone and they wanted to get out."

But he explained that cutting off a limb in an earthquake could be very risky not only because amputees could bleed to death but also because the rushed amputation could make the wounds harder to heal and make the future prosthesis difficult.

"You can't just bring in 50 limbs. People won't be able to walk with them. A trained prosthetist has to take each stump and make a mould, and then make a socket to fit."

A Handicap International prosthetist, Al Ingersoll, echoed Rader's views and said the key risk for quake amputees came from the emergency limb removal method, colloquially known as "guillotine."

The guillotine cuts make remaining bone length problematic for wound heals and prosthesis.

Ingersoll, however, said amputations were now "fairly well controlled," though these operations were not well thought of in the first phase of the rescue work.

Colombian surgeon Alera Best said both the local authorities and the international community should start to think about the future of these quake amputees.

According to UN figures, two-thirds of Haiti's 9 million population were jobless even before the killer earthquake. It will be even harder for the handicapped to find a job to feed themselves and their families.

The Colombian doctor has suggested that factories offering social benefits be set up to employ handicapped people in Haiti, one of the least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere.

(Xinhua News Agency February 2, 2010)



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