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August 16, 2012

New Haiti program to improve rehab services

The School of Allied Health Professions just launched a program in Haiti to deal with one of the country's most glaring needs--rehabilitation treatment for the disabled. Sixteen Haitians are now studying for a certificate that will allow them to serve as rehabilitation technicians. The program is one of the first of its kind in the country.

After the students graduate in February 2013, they will help their neighbors regain physical functionality that was lost in the 2010 earthquake or through other circumstances.

New student Edgard Bommier is happy to study in the program because "my people need it." He is from the destroyed town of Léogâne, the epicenter of the 7.0 earthquake in 2010, where many people now live with amputations.

The certificate program is based at a sister hospital and university to Loma Linda University--Hopital Adventiste d'Haiti and Universite Adventiste d'Haiti in Carrefour, outside Port-au-Prince.

It is designed to fill a major gap in the country's medical infrastructure, which boasts a few Haitian physical therapists, but no Haitian occupational therapists. This is for a country that, even before the earthquake, had an estimated 10 percent of its population disabled.

That percentage has only grown since then. To date, many patients have had to rely on international workers for rehabilitation services. But the numbers of foreign volunteers are starting to dwindle.

"Comparing the current poverty of rehabilitation services in Haiti to the almost insurmountable number of individuals with disability made me realize we needed to do something about this dire situation," said Everett Lohman III, D.Sc., program director and professor of physical therapy at LLU. He has volunteered in Haiti numerous times since the earthquake.

Classes began June 18 and are taught by LLU professors, alumni, and other instructors who travel there a week or two at a time. Heather Thomas, Ph.D., co-director of the program and associate professor of occupational therapy at LLU, taught their first course, which was a weeklong introduction to rehabilitation.

"From day one, I was just so incredibly impressed with their enthusiasm for being in the classroom. They said, 'You can count on us,'" said Dr. Thomas. "When I ask a question, so many hands go up, and some of them want to answer twice. But I was also blown away by their answers."

For example, she gave the students a case study about a woman she treated who suffered a stroke during childbirth and now had a baby to care for. She asked them their ideas for helping the new mother.

"The answers they gave were brilliant; it almost made me cry," she said. "I thought, 'You've been in this program two days and you're already coming up with these brilliant, complex ideas?' They really saw the patient for who she was."

Dr. Thomas believes the students will be pioneers who move the rehabilitation professions forward in Haiti.

"One year from now, they're going to be incredible clinicians," she said. "I think we're going to see many of them wanting to push forward to get a bachelor's degree. They're going to start thinking about what's next."

Student Fortilus Cedieu is looking forward to changing his country.

"I am feeling so good and proud to be useful in my life," he said. "Helping people is very important."

Loma Linda University stepped up its involvement in Haiti immediately post quake and continues to play a critical role not only in recovery but in making the country even better than it was before.

The university's relationship with Haiti dates back to Hopital Adventiste's affiliation, beginning in 2001, with Adventist Health International--a nonprofit based at LLU that partners with health care facilities in developing countries to improve services.

Since the earthquake, Loma Linda University has helped stabilize and upgrade the hospital, coordinated some 2,000 volunteers, and temporarily operated a refugee camp at the Adventist university.

This story was originally published in the July 27, 2012, edition of Today.
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