Herald-Journal of Spartanburg

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) – Dr. Richard Hawkins snapped many pictures while recently volunteering at a Haitian hospital, but one stands out to him. He sees it as telling a story while also posing a question.

The photo shows Hawkins, who is wearing his scrubs, leaning over a smiling 6-year-old girl. She's wearing a pink dress and she's sitting atop a bed. Her left leg had been recently amputated following January's earthquake in Haiti.

Hawkins said the girl's smile is a reminder of the many smiles he saw at the hospital by those who survived a great tragedy. The smile also reminds him of the spirit of those trying to move on with their lives. Then he wonders about this girl's future and the thousands of others who lost limbs after the earthquake.

“For these patients, it's a huge unknown,” said Hawkins, an orthopedist with the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas.

Hawkins spent a week volunteering with the Missionary Evangelical Baptist of Southern Haiti after traveling to the country with a team from the Medical University of South Carolina. Hawkins said the hospital where he volunteered was already short-staffed with nurses who hadn't been paid in at least six months. So, patients often relied on their families to change bed linens and feed them.

Now, there's an overwhelming need for crutches and prosthesis in the country.

“There will be thousands without limbs,” said Hawkins, adding that he's heard a rumor that an American organization could establish a facility to build prosthesis in the country.

Hawkins said those receiving artificial limbs and crutches also will need physical therapy, and there's a shortage of therapists in the country, too.

Hawkins said the work in Haiti will be ongoing for years and he's writing a report for the American Red Cross to offer suggestions.

Hawkins said he is looking into the possibility of offices, such as Steadman-Hawkins, having a rotation of doctors and staff to spend time in Haiti treating patients.

“In order for Haiti to move forward, they're depending on the rest of the world,” Hawkins said.

Many Upstate doctors have volunteered to help those injured in the earthquake, and they've had to pack all of the supplies they've needed for surgeries. Hawkins, who said his trip was the first time he had volunteered for such a mission, said it was quite different from the conditions he's used to in the United States. At times, Hawkins said, the operating room might only have access to a single bucket of water, and doctors had to get around the hospital with head lamps at night because the building didn't have electricity.

Instead of inserting screws and rods inside of the limbs of those with broken joints, doctors must treat those conditions externally because the operating rooms weren't sterile.

“The earthquake has been an extremely bad tragedy for them, but they were in bad shape before,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said the smiles of those in the hospital and hearing families singing together made an impression on him. Many of the patients he saw had to grasp losing a limb, but there was a sense they felt they would be OK.

“They seem to take it better than I've seen some in our neck of the woods take it,” Hawkins said.