Helping Haiti get back on it’s feet: New England Brace Company provides traditional prosthesis to earthquake victims

A New England-based corporation headquartered two hours north of Boston became a major supplier of traditional prosthesis in the aftermath of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti.
This major disaster, which destroyed the medical infra structure in a land of nine million people and significantly damaged the capital city of Port Au Prince, moved the New England Brace Company (NBC) to make a commitment to help the poor Caribbean nation. NBC responded by sending clinical teams to Haiti to examine injured people and act as an advisor in establishing a high tech electronic medical data network.
The initial quake, along with the continuous tremors that lasted up to two weeks, destroyed many government buildings including the Presidential Palace, the Parliament Building, and homes.
The United Nations and the U. S. government estimated that one fifth of a million people died in the event. The UN reported that thirty percent of the people who were injured were young children. Handicap International, a French relief organization, estimated that at least one hundred thousand people had amputations due to serous injuries.
Five months later NBC is still operating in Haiti; conducting clinical missions and training local people to work as prosthesis assistants in the cities and tent camps. The prosthesis assistants help amputees put on and maintain their artificial limbs so that they can begin to walk normally. Most importantly they are helping the amputees to take care of their new prosthesis, which includes a socket that attaches to what remains of the leg, by demonstrating the four regimen for a traditional prosthesis, which begins with a long sock that goes over the leg limb. This is followed by a liner made of rigid foam called a pelite. Pelite forms a cushion liner between the limb and the prosthesis. A nylon stocking covers the limb and the foam. Finally the socket is attached that connects the limb to the prosthesis. This allows the amputee to walk normally.
Accordingly to Dennis Acton, Information Technology Manager for NBC whose wife is the granddaughter of the company founder, the magnitude of all the deaths injuries and amputations in this poor Caribbean nation made Haiti a top priority. “Since Haiti and the United States are in the same hemisphere, working in Haiti made sense. The travel time between Haiti and the U. S. A. is much less compared to Africa or India,” said Acton.
NBC conducted a series of clinical missions from January through June down to Haiti. Whole teams were flown in that included experienced prosthetist, physical therapists, rehabilitation specialists and out-patient specialists. These specialists visited the cities and tent camps to examine amputees and also to help formulate a plan to create a national patient data base. From this data base, patient charts would be created and used to produce precise prosthesis.
Once NBC and its teams came back home they helped create traditional prosthesis for an additional 12 to 15 people. 4 to 6 weeks later they returned showing the people how to use the prosthesis limbs with the assistance of a prosthesis assistant.
“Our physical therapists and rehab people worked with these patients for our complete mission until they learned how to walk on their own,” said Acton.
NBC also worked with the national government and the American consulting company GRT to construct a medical database system to get the personal information of the people participating in the prosthetist program on-line and updated weekly. GRT is internationally recognized for its technology disaster recovery work. GRT was awarded the contract to build this system which used handheld data devices by doctors and trained prosthesis assistants.
“The question that I found as an IT specialist was how do we respond to some one-quarter of a million causalities that require tracking information-head counts, personal patient statistics and medical treatment information,” Acton said. “As an IT profession, l felt there was a need to create an electronic system supported by portable computing devices and satellites to help speed up production of prosthesis’s for people in need.”.
The earthquake destroyed homes forcing thousands of people to the streets with minimal belongings, such as the clothes on their back and what little they could salvage. Haiti has one of the lowest family income levels in terms of the dollar in the Caribbean region.” Homeless people were all over.
To carry out its work in Haiti and to raise funds NBC created a foundation (Name of the foundation if it has one?). The foundation has received mixed results so far. Their work has been internationally recognized and written about in the Boston Globe by Stephen Smith. On However, NBECO has also burned through 40,000 dollars while only raising 16,000 dollars. The sour American economy has hindered the relief effort. In order to continue the company’s paid work, the relief missions to Haiti were on weekends which became taxing on the staff. “I wanted to help everyone in Haiti” Acton said.
Other organizations have joined the relief effort, like the Handicap International and the Hanger, Inc a leading prosthetic device maker based Maryland. At the same time, people such as Reginette Cinelien, whom Stephen Smith highlighted in the Sunday June 27 issue of the Boston Globe, walked with her mother to her job in the market day.
As the relief effort winds down, Cinelien and the eleven other people in the NBC
Prosthesis program will need new artificial limbs in the next decade. Who will build the new
artificial legs for the group members to use
The final step in the relief effort will be carried out later this year when a group of prosthesis assistants will come to New Hampshire for extensive training. “We are starting to apply for visas and planning to do a fundraising event” said Action. For more information access the company web page.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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