In her career as a physical therapist, Sara Hammett shined. But all to soon it seems, marriage and motherhood took her in another direction. Raising three boys and being married to what could only be described – from my personal experience – as a very driven man back burnered her ambitions.
Fast forward any number of years and the disastrous 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti and devastated Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010 was Hammett’s call to action. “I called on my background not only in physical therapy but also the French language, in which I am fluent, and felt that I just couldn’t sit back and not do something to help,” said Hammett.
Not having working in PT in some 20 years, Hammett set about revising her license. She worked hard for six months, took and passed the board exam and then began looking for places in Haiti that her skill set could work best. She eventually stumbled across the Hanger Clinic, part of the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in the town of Deschapelles. “Being away from the front line issues was something I was seeking. I didn’t have the experience or the fortitude for that,” said Hammett.
Especially interesting to Hammett, Hôpital Albert Schweitzer has a specific clinic for amputees. Established after the earthquake, the clinic also contains a unit for Haitians to go through rehabilitation with their prostheses. Hammett had found her niche.
“I spent much of my time there helping amputees learn to function with their new limbs,” said Hammett. Impressed with the ease and determination with which patients dealt with their injuries and subsequent prostheses was a cathartic experience for Hammett. “The Haitian people are remarkably fast in the process that entails going from receiving their prostheses to walking. They do, in a matter of hours, what is takes days and weeks to accomplish in the United States. They are strong and determined with a sense of necessity that underscores everything they do. Persevering through hardship is a way of life for them.”
Another interesting and unique feature of the clinic is that they fabricate top-quality prostheses on site. “Having physical therapists doing training in the same facility is unusual but adds an unprecedented level of efficiency. And, I should point out that the components that come out of Germany are designed specifically for Haiti. For such a poor country it is interesting that they have the most sophisticated and resilient knee prostheses due to the conditions under which they live,” said Hammett.
At this moment, Hammett is back in Haiti helping teach new instructors in the rehab program. Young, 20-something Haitians are coming forward and training and studying hard to become rehab technicians, working under the supervision of the physical therapists. “These students are bright and motivated and will be an enormous asset once in place.”
According to Hammett, the Hanger Clinic has treated more than 700 patients in its first year – including many some double amputees – and is “the busiest clinic in the Western Hemisphere.”
“HAS is an oasis of hope. It is well established, having been here since 1956. There are volunteers coming through all the time and great doctors, nurses and student as well. There are lots and lots of good things going on and the people of Haiti are, as a whole, hopeful for the future.”
For further details, visit Hammett’s blog at sarashaitijournal.blogspot.com.