Crushed and gashed, dozens in Haiti now lose limbs

For two days, Ticia Vital refused doctors’ pleas to allow them to amputate her festering left leg, even as the gangrene spread and the alternative became death.

But after a sleepless night filled with pain, the 19-year-old agreed — becoming one of scores of Haitians who have lost their limbs to the magnitude-7,0 earthquake that has devastated millions.

In a country where life is difficult in the best of times, the prospect of a future without an arm or leg is especially dismaying.

“What will I do? How will I manage to survive on my own with just one leg?” Vital asked, lying lethargically on a metal bed frame at Renaissance Hospital, which Cuban doctors founded for eye care in 2006 and swiftly converted to a trauma unit after last Tuesday’s quake.

Doctors in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince say they have performed numerous amputations of hands, arms and legs. An exact count is impossible to make as overworked medical staff race to care for tens of thousands of patients overflowing hospital wards into parks and gardens.


“We have had to perform dozens of amputations, including many double amputations,” said Dr Diana Lardy of the Los Angeles-based International Medical Corps. “The problem is people haven’t gotten medical care soon enough, so wounds are very infected. Some of them are coming in with bones just sticking out from the rest of the leg.”

While most injuries occurred when buildings collapsed, Lardy said she also is seeing patients with gashes and other injuries caused by amateur rescuers who frantically dug survivors from rubble with whatever tools they could find.

“We have dozens and dozens of patients waiting for surgery, including dozens of amputations, and people are still coming in,” said Lardy, of Madison, Wisconsin.

Ward space is short. Some buildings at the Port-au-Prince General Hospital, including two operating rooms, suffered quake damage.

Doctors performed 45 amputations at Renaissance in three days, said Dr Olga Maria Delgado of Havana. Most were done outside on a white-tiled counter under a tin roof in the hospital gardens. She
said sterility was less of an issue than usual because most of the wounds already are infected.

At first, patients refused to come inside the hospital for fear the building would collapse from aftershocks. But the operating room finally moved indoors on Monday, starting with Vital’s surgery.

As they passed, people held handkerchiefs to their noses against the stench of Vital’s rotting leg. Flies buzzed around the sheet that covered her and settled on an exposed ankle bandage oozing puss.

“She repeatedly refused to have her leg cut,” said her cousin, Chantal Felix. “But I talked her into it, and she had to accept it after the doctors told her the gangrene was spreading and that she would die.”

Vital and Felix work selling secondhand shoes in the Bel Air slum, where they share a room with Felix’s 11-year-old daughter.

“What will we do now?” Vital moaned. “What will we do?” Unfortunately, her worries about the future may not matter.

After the operation, with her leg cut above the knee, surgeon Dr Frank Diaz said Vital was severely infected and suffering from scepticemia.

“She’s not been responding well to all the antibiotics we’re giving her,” he said. “I think she has a 90% chance of dying.” – Sapa-AP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Women accuse aid workers of sexual abuse during the DRC’s Ebola crisis

More than 50 women have accused Ebola aid workers from the World Health Organisation...

The statue of Louis XVI should remain forever handless

A statue of the French king in Louisville, Kentucky was damaged during the protests against police killings. It should not be repaired

Viral authoritarianism during the Covid-19 pandemic

Authoritarian leaders have often used natural disasters to tighten their grasp on power. We are seeing the same happen during the coronavirus crisis, in dictatorships and democracies alike

Marie Antoinette rules in Colombia as the masses protest against inequality

Citizens have taken to the streets as the country’s transition away from a 70-year civil war gives them opportunity to find their voices

No word from Haiti’s president as fear paralyses capital

Sporadic gunfire echoed through the streets of Port-au-Prince on Monday as the government remained silent in the face of protests

UK aid chief warns charities after Oxfam sex scandal

The scandal led to the resignation of Oxfam's deputy head and has thrown into question government funding of roughly £32 million for the charity
Advertising

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

North West premier goes off the rails

Supra Mahumapelo ally Job Mokgoro’s defiance of party orders exposes further rifts in the ANC

Construction sites are a ‘death trap’

Four children died at Pretoria sites in just two weeks, but companies deny they’re to blame

Why the Big Fish escape the justice net

The small fish get caught. Jails are used to control the poor and disorderly and deflect attention from the crimes of the rich and powerful.

Koko claims bias before Zondo commission

In a lawyer’s letter, the former Eskom chief executive says the commission is not being fair to him
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…