|Gheorghes Exantus spent three days under the rubble of his home following the earthquake that shook Haiti last January. With his feet and hand pinned under cement blocks, he had no idea if he would live, much less walk again.|
A national championship salsa dancer and a computer-programming student, Gheorghes had a wide circle of friends in Port-Au-Prince, and his mother and siblings nearby. It was his friends who eventually found him three days following the earthquake, and got help to dig him out of the rubble of his first-floor apartment.
At 29 and in good shape from dancing, Gheorghes thought he was fine and had emerged from the earthquake relatively unscathed. But when several days later his left hand and right leg began swelling, a series of X-rays showed that both limbs were in trouble and that his leg would have to be amputated below the knee.
As a dancer, the amputation was difficult but still, Gheorghes figured he was lucky and would work his way through the surgery and therapies, eventually getting back on his feet, prosthesis and all.
“I figured this was what had to be done,” said Gheorghes. “I was very determined and focused on getting back to my original level of activity.”
Fortunately for Gheorghes, his friend and co-worker, Steve, manages the hotel in Port-Au-Prince where Magen David Adom (MDA) and Sheba Medical Center staff stayed during a JDC-funded needs assessment visit. Steve told them about Gheorghes, and they referred him to the Haiti State University Hospital (HUEH) clinic. There Gheorghes was fitted with a prosthetic leg and received physiotherapy from the Israeli medical team from Sheba Hospital. His hand, however, still required attention, as his fingers had been stuck in a claw-like position and had suffered severe nerve damage while trapped under the rubble.
Since Gheorghes needed a more complicated operation than could be managed in Haiti, JDC’s partners began working on getting him to Israel. He arrived at Tel Hashomer’s orthopedic wing several months later. There he not only benefited from micro-surgery that should allow him to eventually regain full use of his hand; he also received a special state-of-the-art addition—a multi-axle ankle and stored energy foot—to upgrade his prosthetic leg.
“I want to get back to dancing and to resume my studies,” Gheorges told JDC days before returning home to Haiti. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to compete again, but I can work as a computer programmer and dance for fun. What’s important is getting back to normal.”
What’s hard, he says, is knowing that he received help when so many others have not, and are worse off than he was.
“It’s clear that I was very lucky,” he says. “I was lucky to come to Israel, lucky to receive help from the Israeli team and JDC.”
Gheorghes is now back in Haiti and has resumed his physiotherapy sessions at the JDC-supported Rehabilitation Center at HUEH.
This article is reprinted with permission from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.