Local clinician brings gift of mobility to Haiti

Photo by Adrienne Saia Isaac

Stephanie Porter opens a box and pulls out a small brown foot. She then removes a metal pylon and a plastic socket from the box. She grimaces as she inserts the foot into the metal “bone” and the bone into the plastic socket.

“We want this to become a part of their body,” she says.

Porter will be taking this box of feet and metal bones with her when she departs for Miami Saturday morning. She’ll then continue on to Deschapelles, Haiti, where she will work with other clinicians to outfit amputees with prosthetic limbs.

Porter’s excited about her two-week trip to Haiti.

“I’ve done some work down in Ecuador and it’s just really powerful, the spirit of the people you’re working with,” she says. “I’ve seen people come in with coffee cans inside of boots attached to suspenders.”

The people she helps won’t be getting makeshift prostheses – they’ll be receiving the same custom-made prosthetic devices that Porter’s American patients do. The prosthetics are individually constructed for each patient and cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on the complexity of the device.

Porter is part of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics who, according to their website, is America’s leading provider of prosthetics and orthotics. In February, Hanger and its philanthropic organization, the Ivan R. Sabel Foundation, launched the Haitian Amputee Coalition. The group, based at Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles consists of several organizations committed to long-term rehabilitation goals of amputees in the earthquake-ravaged country.

The clinicians – all of whom are volunteers – work in Haiti for two-week shifts. They are supervised by a lead prosthetist who remains in Haiti for three months at a time.

To date, the clinicians have fitted over 250 prosthetic limbs and have committed through the end of the calendar year, if not longer, to help any amputee who seeks treatment.

Each prosthesis is custom-made on site to fit the individual amputee. Most of the prostheses used in her Lafayette office are fabricated in Golden, with Porter being able to make slight adjustments in a workroom adjacent to her office.

Hanger has donated all the fabrication supplies necessary to create the prostheses in Haiti. Other components, such as pylons and joints, are shipped in as needed. The clinicians will take casts of each patient, then fabricate the socket (where the prosthesis connects to the body) and build the artificial limb from there.

So far, it seems that women and children are receiving the bulk of the prosthetic limbs, but Porter isn’t really sure what she’ll see once she’s in Haiti.

“I just know it’s going to be busy,” she says.

Porter’s work with amputees has shown her the resilience and motivation of people to regain their mobility. She says she’s heard of people who walk without crutches within a day of receiving their new prosthesis. It’s a testament to the perseverance of the human body, regardless of one’s location in the world.

“We’ve seen here in our daily practice what giving people their mobility can do in terms of their hope and their goals,” says Porter. “We want to spread that to all the different places that we can.”