After her first summer visit to Haiti following the 7.0 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated the country in January 2010, Sharon Gorman, PT, DPTSc, GCS, associate professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, knew she had to go back. For nearly a month, July 14 to August 13, Dr. Gorman spent her summer vacation providing primary care for underserved communities who were grossly affected by the earthquake that left hundreds of thousands Haitians homeless and wounded.
"I decided to return to Haiti because while the needs have changed and shifted since the earthquake 18 months ago, Haiti still has a lack of physical therapists (PTs) available to work with people who would benefit," said Dr. Gorman.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association website, physical therapists are often the most crucial line of defense in recovery efforts. "Once doctors can determine which survivors will live following medical care, the rehabilitation options for these survivors could be brutally slim without necessary therapy, prosthetic aids and the qualified professionals who are trained in teaching the victims how to use them."
Returning to Les Cayes
For her first two weeks in Haiti, Dr. Gorman returned to the same clinic as last year in Les Cayes. This clinic is run by Advantage Haiti in partnership with Medical Teams International. Along with two other PTs, Dr. Gorman provided direct patient care to Haitians in the area. "Some of the types of patients we saw included people with arthritis, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, stroke, amputations due to complications of diabetes, burns, and musculoskeletal complaints."
She also treated patients suffering amputation after trauma --mostly motorcycle accidents. "Traffic accidents are the most common injury and the trauma associated with these accidents is similar to those seen during the earthquake such as fractures, amputations, burns, and brain injury."
Hope and Resilience
After two weeks in Les Cayes, Dr. Gorman journeyed to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Deschappelles where she spent an additional two weeks as a clinical instructor to six Haitian rehabilitation technician students. The 10 month Rehabilitation Tech Training Program (RTTP) is one of a kind in Haiti. This part of her trip was coordinated with Health Volunteers Overseas. The physical therapy staff at HAS are all Haitians consisting one PT and three rehabilitation techs who are graduates of the RTTP program. Dr. Gorman acted as a PT consultant, similar to 'train-the-trainer' methodology which involves teaching local health professionals essential medical skills.
"There was another PT working with me as a clinical instructor, so the two of us supervised students in the hospital and outpatient department. It was great to see the staff working independently and not relying on outside, visiting, or expatriate physical therapists to provide care," explained Dr. Gorman. "Additionally, the physicians at the hospital, both visiting and staff, had great respect for the staff therapists and techs and relied heavily on their input on patient care during morning rounds each day."
Throughout her trip Dr. Gorman said the Haitians - especially those who live in the rural villages around the capital city of Port-au-Prince - need as much foreign help as they can get. Haiti is a country that still has 1.2 million people living in displacement homes made of tarps, even a year and a half after the earthquake hit. She says despite all the great effort and aid that has been trickling into the country since last year, the conditions are always a shock.
"When you see it firsthand, there are no words for it," said Dr. Gorman. "They have essentially no resources, few latrines, little clean water, not enough food, just terrible conditions."
But despite the lack of hygiene, clean water, toilets and the resurgence of cholera, Dr. Gorman plans to return to Haiti again next year. "The streets are clearing of rubble, but there's still a lot of work to do," Dr. Gorman adds, "you see people suffering from preventable illness and suddenly it dawns on you in a very powerful way that these are people just like you and me. We can't lose sight of the fact that this is a profession that's about caring for our fellow human beings and that's why I plan to go back again."
Gorman plans on incorporating her second Haiti experience into her pathology course, talking to students about the type of injuries and lack of resources she encountered. Additionally, she plans on incorporating concepts of cultural competence practiced in Haiti into all the courses she teaches.