Freeborn Ukpede and Kathy Davison want anyone who has unused crutches and canes to know that they have a way to put them to good use—send them to Haiti for children and adults who have had amputations, or other leg injuries.
Working through CURE International, the two nurse anesthetists from DeKalb Medical Center arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, nine days after the earthquake in January and assisted a medical team in treating Haitians—many of whom had orthopedic injuries. After surgeries, amputations and the setting of bones, many of the survivors had to be carried away by family. For those who were ambulatory, crutches were in such short supply that they distributed one crutch apiece to individuals to make the limited supply go farther, according to Davison and Ukpede.
Ukpede said he made up his mind while he was still there to bring as many crutches as he could collect back to the country. Now the two anesthetists are attempting to do just that.
Davison and Ukpede are currently involved in collecting new and used crutches that Ukpede plans to transport Haiti when he returns on April 16. So far, they have a stockpile of some 70 crutches and five canes, and they hope to reach 400 within the next month.
Without the use of crutches or canes, many with orthopedic injuries will remain dependent on their families to get around, he pointed out. He called them “an immediate lifesaver.”
Davison recalled a little girl she treated whose disposition changed dramatically when she was given crutches.
“She did not realize that she would ever be able to do anything but crawl on her knees,” said Davison.
Ukpede is no stranger to medical mission work. He has volunteered around the globe for a number of years—doing about two to three medical missions a year–in Venezuela, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Albania and Nigeria. However, it was his most recent experience providing medical assistance to the earthquake survivors in Haiti that has been the most significant.
“I was born in a poor Nigerian small village,” said Ukpede. “I received a lot of medical help from missionaries. I knew what I had received. I had to give back.”
When news began circulating about the devastation in Haiti, Ukpede said, “I wanted to be in Haiti the next day.”
However this mission has hit Ukpede hard. Upon returning to metro Atlanta from Haiti, he said he experienced post traumatic stress-like symptons.
“This was by far the most difficult for me,” he said after describing what he observed and experienced in the impoverished and shattered country.
Davison, a Decatur resident, said she, too, felt called to be part of medical team following the catastrophe.
While she hadn’t done a medical mission before, Davison had been in the Army during the first Gulf War, working in an evacuation hospital in the early ‘90s. She said she was used to austere conditions. She said she knew she could be of help.
She contacted a doctor who told her about CURE and within days she was credentialed for the mission.
Ukpede said a good many of the 100 or so patients he and Davison cared for during their eight-day trip had fractured or broken femurs, tibias and arms.
Ukpede and Davison are getting support from their colleagues, such as anesthesiologist Dr. Michael Schneider, who recently donated two pairs of crutches to their campaign. Also the DeKalb Medical Foundation has agreed to fund Ukpede’s return trip to Haiti.
In addition to providing for the medical needs of the survivors, Ukpede also is trying to figure out how to help a little girl who stole his heart.
Ten-year-old Nainji bears a striking resemblance to Ukpede’s 3-year-old daughter. He helped treat her for a broken femur that resulted after she responded to the cries of her little brother. She ran back inside of their home and a concrete part of the structure fell on her.
Before the father of four left the island, the girl asked Ukpede to take her back to the United States with him. He said if he would love to bring her here because the prospect for youth in Haiti is bleak. He’s looking into ways to help the child and her family, he said.
“The challenge is huge,” said Ukpede.
Persons interested in donating crutches should bring them to the Information Desk in the lobby of DeKalb Medical Center at 2701 North Decatur Road, Decatur. Those who would like to make a donation to fund for the April 16 medical mission to Haiti can do so online at www.dekalbmedical.org/Foundation/MakeAGift.aspx or by calling (404) 501-5956.