Haitian Amputee Now Makes Prostheses for Others

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"Why did I lose my leg? Perhaps fate wanted me to give prostheses to other people.”

“There were 25 of us in the classroom,” says James Medina, remembering the moment the earth began to shake on January 12, 2010. As the university building collapsed around him, 19 of his classmates died, along with more than 1,000 other young people. “I spent the whole day under the rubble. I was protected by the bodies of five friends. I think about it every day."

Rescuers brought James to a hospital, where doctors amputated his leg. Despite these painful memories, James is nothing if not determined. Every day, he gets up very early to find a “tap tap” (a public taxi or bus) and travels from Carrefour, a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, to the rehabilitation center in Pétionville run by Healing Hands for Haiti, one of Handicap International’s partners. He's almost done with Handicap International’s three-year, orthopedic technician training course. After graduating, he’ll be able to fit people with disabilities with orthopaedic supports and prostheses.

“My journey takes me nearly three hours, so I get home very late in the evening," he says. "I study at night, in the courtyard, while my two sisters and four brothers are sleeping. Then I sleep for three hours before I need to get up again to attend my course. I’m exhausted. But it’s worth it.”

James' enthusiasm for his future profession was born during his recovery. “I saw the amazing work done by the orthopedists,” he says.  “A few months after the earthquake, my stump had healed. I went to Handicap International’s rehabilitation center. I did a lot of exercises to prepare my body for the prosthesis. The day I tried it for the first time, I understood straightaway: this was my prosthesis, my new leg. Since that moment, I no longer feel like I’m disabled. I haven’t cried since.

“Often my mom cries when she sees my stump. She wants to protect me all the time. Sometimes she sleeps next to me on the ground. I tell her that everyone needs to accept their fate. Sometimes I also wonder why I was in the building when the earthquake struck. Maybe God wanted this to be my fate, so I could give prostheses to people with disabilities. Because a prosthesis changes your life.”

James is very proud of his prosthesis. “I show it to everyone. Sometimes, when I’m at church, I roll up my trouser leg because it’s more comfortable that way. It shocks people, but I don’t care. My artificial leg shouldn’t look like a real leg. I don’t cover the metal. Why? Because I can do everything I want to now I have my prosthesis and I want to show it off. I want to help other people who need one, too.”

James has passed his first exams and hopes to complete his studies in a few months. He’s already working with patients: “It reassures my patients when they see that I’ve got a prosthetic limb too. Young people feel less odd and realize that it’s possible to study and have a future, even if you’re disabled. On the other hand, I sometimes have doubts too. There’s not much work in Haiti. Will I, with my disability, find work after I finish my studies? There’s only one solution: I need to come top of my class.”

His next patient is Dooly. This five year old boy has deformed knees and needs orthoses. James’s face no longer looks tired. His mind is focused on one thing: helping the little boy, in the same way he was helped after the earthquake.