Kyle Eckhart of Napa Valley Prosthetics and Orthotics spends his days helping people who need prosthetic limbs or orthotic braces.
Eckhart barely gets a break for lunch, but in early May he was able to steal away from his business to travel to Haiti to help victims of the January 2010 earthquake.
On May 6, Eckhart flew with another certified prosthetist orthotist to Miami and then to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.
Eckhart went to the island nation for eight days to volunteer with ProsthetiKa, a nonprofit in Santa Rosa. ProsthetiKa works with a Seventh-day Adventist-run hospital in the capital city to provide artificial limbs and braces.
When he first saw the Third-World conditions and destruction from the earthquake, Eckhart admitted that at first he felt overwhelmed.
“As soon as you leave the airport you see crumbled houses that are collapsed,” Eckhart said. “There is rubble in the streets. There is garbage everywhere.” Plastic bottles and Styrofoam food containers clog the rivers, he said. “Everyone is in need.”
“I knew it would be poor, but you don’t truly appreciate that until you get there and see how poor it is,” he said.
“The problems seem so big, you wonder what you can really do,” Eckhart said. “You realize the only thing you can do is something.”
Each day, Eckhart and the other volunteers would open the prosthetic clinic doors at the hospital to see patients. Besides amputee victims from the earthquake, they also saw diabetic patients and children with cerebral palsy.
“We saw some polio patients. It was an eye-opener to work with those patients,” Eckhart said. “In the States, you don’t see that.
“We saw a paraplegic patient from the earthquake. We set him for braces so he can stand up without his legs buckling.”
Eckhart said he was inspired by the other volunteers from all over the world who have been working in Haiti. While one person can’t make a change, “with all these other people we do what we can,” he said.
Besides treating patients in Haiti, ProsthetiKa also wants to help set up prosthetic and orthotic care centers and train locals about prosthetics and orthotics, Eckhart said.
“The goal is to work with the local prosthetists on-site and help them become self-sustainable so they can carry on the prosthetic work,” he said.
Eckhart called his visit to Haiti humbling.
“My perspective got a reality check. You realize how little you need. It makes you appreciate fresh air and clean streets and a clean river,” he said.
Even so, he hopes to return to Haiti to help. “I look forward to going back,” he said.