Prosthetics of Hope: Getting the Most by “Serving the Least”

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By Taffy Bowman, CPO

"Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

—Matthew 25:40

In July of this year, I traveled to Titanyen, Haiti, to serve a week in the Mission of Hope prosthetics clinic—Prosthetics of Hope. For those of you who monitor the OANDP-L listserv, you will see many volunteer opportunities such as this one. In fact, this is how I learned about the organization myself. Prosthetics of Hope was established in April 2010, largely due to the volunteer efforts and work of Chase Brown, CPO, MK Prosthetic & Orthotic Services, San Antonio, Texas.

The poverty, devastation, and suffering that I witnessed during my week in Haiti are things I'm not sure will ever leave me. Even now, almost three months after my return, the powerful memories of the people I met, the sights I saw, and the lives that touched me influence my perspective daily. One person who especially impacted me was a middle-aged Haitian man named Nonue.

Nonue was hired by Mission of Hope to be the first full-time prosthetic technician at the Prosthetics of Hope clinic. Nonue lost his 20-year-old daughter as a result of the January 12 earthquake when their house collapsed on her. His 18-year-old son lost his leg below the knee as a result of the earthquake and had been fit with a prosthesis by the prosthetist who served at the clinic the week prior to my arrival.

The week I was there was Nonue's first full week on the job. He rarely left my side. It was obvious that he was extremely grateful for the job he had been given, and his thirst for learning was unquenchable. Despite the language barrier, Nonue and I worked side by side, from Monday through Thursday, to undertake from start to finish two transtibial and one transfemoral prostheses, and to measure a patient for one transradial prosthesis. I never realized how few words it takes to teach someone how to mix plaster, pull plastic, and smooth trim lines on the router!

If I have ever felt like I was in the presence of someone great, I felt it with Nonue. He's one of millions of Haitians who has experienced tragic suffering yet is graced with a depth of soul uncommon to most of us, along with a spirit of strength and fortitude that is indescribable. Nonue plans to attend prosthetic training school in Haiti so that he can potentially become the first formally trained Haitian prosthetist for the Prosthetics of Hope clinic.

At the end of the week, I sat down with Nonue to pass along a few parting words—words that have been passed along to me through cherished mentors in the field. The first thing I said was, "Always take one thing at a time." So often in O&P, things can start to feel like they are spinning out of control, and it's important to take a step back, take a deep breath, and focus on just the task in front of you. You, your patient, and his or her outcome will benefit, I told him.

The second thing I said was, "Be patient and persistent." Learning prosthetics does not come overnight, and it often takes years to become proficient. Nevertheless, the work is rewarding beyond measure, and he will be able to bring hope beyond comparison to his fellow Haitians.

Third, I shared with him that I truly believe he is a chosen and gifted leader. I told Nonue that he is beginning a journey where hopefully many will follow in his footsteps and will look to him for guidance and encouragement.

Personally, this trip was about my faith and being able to offer my professional skills in a poverty- and tragedy-stricken land. I went feeling as if I was on a journey to "serve the least," yet returned with the feeling that "the least" had served me the most.

Until the day that Nonue and his fellow Haitians are fully trained and self sufficient in their abilities to provide prosthetic limbs to Haitian amputees, there will be an ongoing need for volunteers at Prosthetics of Hope.

Taffy Bowman, CPO, is a practitioner at Ability Prosthetics & Orthotics, Exton, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at . For more information about Prosthetics of Hope, visit www.mohhaiti.org