Sparked by a Los Angeles Times article [below], a 19-year-old Haitian girl, Sounlove, who lost her father and both legs in the devastating earthquake, traveled with her sister to Israel, where she received two new prosthetic legs and eight weeks of critical rehabilitation at Israel’s National Center for Rehabilitation at Sheba Medical Center.
This initiative was started by Friends of Sheba Medical Center’s Executive Director, Jack Saltzberg. All costs of Sounlove’s travel and rehabilitation ($50,000) was paid through the generosity of Friends of Sheba donors.
Sounlove’s difficult journey has just begun as she would like to complete high school and study in college. However, there are many further medical expenses facing Sounlove, and she can use your support. Please help. All donations will go toward Sounlove’s future medical and educational needs.
Watch this incredibly powerful story that aired on Israel’s leading news station, Channel 2!
Haitian double amputee returns from Israel with new legs
After Sounlove Zamor lost her limbs in last year’s quake, an L.A. group arranged for her to get prosthetics. She’s grateful to be walking well, but in her impoverished homeland, she feels there is nowhere to go.
March 20, 2011 By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti—She can climb stairs and hike blocks to a bus stop. The beat-up wheelchair is gone.
Sounlove Zamor, who lost both legs below the knee in Haiti’s earthquake, is walking again.
The young woman, who had been caught in a collapsed house, was fitted with prosthetic legs in Israel after benefactors read about her in The Times. Now she’s back in Haiti and walking on new legs, as called for in the script.
But in Haiti, endings are seldom TV tidy.
For Zamor, now 20, home has meant heartache. Her father died in last year’s earthquake, and her mother can’t look at her without sobbing in sadness. Like most impoverished Haitians, Zamor and four grown sisters lack jobs, and see few prospects amid the quake-ripped landscape.
The Zamor sisters share the home of an aunt who lives in Canada and sends money for food. Although the house isn’t theirs, it’s shelter in a city where hundreds of thousands of people are stuck in squalid tent camps.
Zamor pines for the strangers in Israel who taught her words of Hebrew and how to balance on her new limbs, which start at the knee and end in white running shoes.
“I was praying from the day I got there that I wouldn’t come back to Haiti,” Zamor said, tending a pot of rice and beans over an outdoor charcoal fire.
At Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, Zamor learned to jump rope, practiced walking with a plastic basin perched on her head, got steadier on her limbs. In the end, she begged to stay, but that wasn’t possible.
Haiti is a brutal place for those who can’t walk, with few services for the disabled and wheelchair access a remote afterthought. Zamor’s life will be much different with legs, even prosthetic ones.
Zamor, grateful, knows this. “I can really walk,” she said.
But where; that’s the problem. She’s at a loss so far. “I have to have somewhere to go,” she said. “And there’s nothing.”
Zamor said she is embarrassed to rejoin the club in which young women prance like fashion models, a popular pastime in Haiti. She bristles when strangers ask why she wears the sneakers instead of sandals, and fights a creeping dread that another quake is coming to end her for sure.
Zamor, who was in ninth grade when she got hurt, wants to go back to school and has dreams of becoming a lawyer or journalist. But she lacks money to pay for classes and books. The Los Angeles-based group that sponsored her rehabilitation, Friends of Sheba Medical Center, is gathering funds to help, said its executive director, Jack Saltzberg.
“My main goal in interacting with her is that she not take things for granted, and that she will learn that there will be only one person who can really help her, that is herself,” Saltzberg said in an e-mail exchange.
Under a skinny palm tree in Port-au-Prince, Zamor flipped through a pink-covered album of photos from her three-month stay in Israel. It’s a little book full of big smiles. She wore a donated black gown to her farewell party and looked elegant.
On a recent day, Zamor wore stretchy red-and-white sweatpants over the artificial legs, which don’t fit quite right because she has lost weight since she returned to Haiti. She pulls three layers of socks over the ends of her legs to fill them out.
Zamor eased up two flights of stairs, touching a wall for balance. She came back down successfully. Dancing, which has always given her special joy, must wait for another time.
There are days when tears burst through without warning, and Zamor wonders whether it might have been better if she had never left, never imagined a life far from this hard Haitian one.
Barely out of her teens, she is learning to pack dreams and despair in the same satchel.
“I feel grateful. I can visit my mother. That’s a good thing in my life,” Zamor said. The kettle bubbled. She considered. “But what comes after that?”?
For a Haitian amputee, life-changing aid is in sight
Across Haiti, a vast global relief effort continues for the 3 million people affected by the Jan. 12 quake. Those receiving the largesse are often the last to know what it all means.
July 24, 2010 By Ken Ellingwood
Reporting from Ganthier, Haiti – Sounlove Zamor was scrubbing laundry under an acacia tree when a stranger arrived to ask her about the good news.
The news was this: Foreign benefactors had arranged to fly Zamor, a 19-year-old student who lost both legs in Haiti’s earthquake, to a top-notch hospital in Israel to be fitted with prosthetic limbs and get rehabilitation for as long as four months, fully paid.
Zamor and her sister soon would fly to Tel Aviv. On the far side of the ocean, new legs awaited.
But here in the Haitian countryside, at the end of a dirt road that surrenders to a weedy footpath, Zamor was hearing for the first time the details of a journey that would change her life. Beneath a spray of tight braids, her round face betrayed neither surprise nor joy at word that the plan was coming true.
“They told me that when I was in the hospital, but I haven’t heard anything since then,” she said.
Across this broken, impoverished land thrums the machine of a vast global relief effort to provide water, tents, latrines, medical care and police protection to the 3 million Haitians affected by the Jan. 12 quake. Those on the receiving end of the largesse are often the last to know what it all means.
In Zamor’s case, the wheels of charity began turning after The Times featured her in a report in February about the plight of thousands of quake victims who had undergone amputations. The article generated a number of offers from readers wanting to help.
Among them was Jack Saltzberg, executive director of a Los Angeles-based foundation affiliated with Israel’s Sheba Medical Center. He thought the Israeli hospital, with a high-tech rehabilitation center and a long history of treating those gravely wounded in Middle East violence, was just the place to get Zamor walking again.
At the time, Zamor lay in a hospital to the north, where she had been taken after being pulled from the rubble. When the quake struck, Zamor was on the second floor of a house in Port-au-Prince, the capital, where she stayed part time with her father, the caretaker.
The building opened like jaws beneath her feet, she recalled, then closed just as suddenly, chewing off her left leg. They never found it.
Her right leg was mangled, her father was dead.
Doctors amputated the crushed leg, leaving Zamor a double amputee in a country where the disabled face monumental physical and social barriers. Both legs now end a little below the knee.
Before the earthquake, she was a vivacious young woman who liked kicking a soccer ball, dancing and practicing modeling struts with her friends. Now, the thought of dancing seemed a cruel joke.
Saltzberg relayed word to Zamor, through a Times translator, that the Israeli hospital would treat her and house her older sister, Baranatha, during her rehabilitation.
Over the next several months, staying in touch with Zamor from abroad would be a complicated task, conducted through intermediaries across barriers of language, distance and unreliable phone service.
“It’s been daunting,” Saltzberg said by telephone. “I was hoping to get her out in three weeks and it’s taken several months.”
There was another hitch: Zamor didn’t have a passport. But her birth certificate and other documents survived at the family’s ramshackle compound here in Ganthier, a rural stretch of sugar cane fields and papaya trees an hour-and-a-half drive east of Port-au-Prince. Zamor has lived here with relatives in tents since March.
Israeli diplomats in Port-au-Prince and the neighboring Dominican Republic helped speed the passport application. When Zamor and an Israeli official went to Haiti’s passport office, she was able to skirt the line in her donated wheelchair.
Zamor was aware that the passport had been issued, but knew nothing about the planned departure until the visitor showed up to ask about the trip, which is scheduled for early August.
If she was weary of waiting, Zamor did not let on. She spoke with a matter-of-factness that was just shy of laconic. A soft smile peeked through now and then.
For four months, Zamor has slept in one of the donated tents next to her family’s quake-damaged concrete houses. The group spends lots of time watching the balky television they have set under the trees. The death of Zamor’s father meant the loss of the main breadwinner. Without the charity of neighbors, she said, “we would probably starve.”
When she needs to go somewhere, Zamor’s sisters steer her wheelchair over the bumpy terrain. The other day, she was debating whether to attend an annual party of her church-sponsored youth group. She wasn’t sure she could bear it.
“Last time I was around a lot of my friends,” she said, “I couldn’t stop crying.”
The farthest she has traveled before is Gonaives, the city up the coast from Port-au-Prince where she was hospitalized. Zamor can’t place Israel on a map but knows it’s mentioned a lot in the Bible. “They said it’s a godly place,” she said.
Zamor thinks about new legs, about snatching back a piece of the life she was supposed to have. She’d like to finish high school, find a career.
She imagines sashaying with her friends again. She worked the idea like a lozenge.
“Yes,” she said, as if assuring herself. “I would like that.”
Amputations push Haitians closer to the edge
A teen who was close to graduating from high school lost her father and both of her legs in the Haiti quake. For her and thousands like her, an already difficult life has become much bleaker.
February 17, 2010 By Mitchell Landsberg
Reporting from Gonaives, Haiti — She is 19 years old, with an angelic face and big, heavy-lidded eyes. A bright young woman close to graduating from high school, a rare accomplishment in Haiti.
As her sister runs a hand through her hair, Sounlove Zamour tells how the Jan. 12 earthquake split her family’s house in two, how it swallowed up her father, how it robbed her of her legs — both gone now, below the knee.
She manages a feeble smile.
Zamour belongs to a heartbreaking new class in Haiti: earthquake amputees. No one knows how many there are, although the number is clearly in the thousands…
It is hard to imagine a more difficult urban environment for a disabled person than Port-au-Prince, the country’s teeming capital. There are few, if any, wheelchair ramps. Even without the mounds of debris left by the earthquake, sidewalks and streets are full of obstacles: potholes, ditches, trash piles, street vendors. Only the grandest of multistory buildings ever had elevators…
The World Health Organization estimates that about 200,000 people were injured in the earthquake, and many of those injuries were disabling. Even fractures can leave a person crippled if not properly treated…
… the challenges are enormous, beginning with the sheer number of disabled people and the cost of treatment and rehabilitation.
After the quake, some patients were sent to hospitals in undamaged cities outside the capital. Four hours north of Port-au-Prince, in Gonaives, Dr. Marcel Chatelier said his staff performed 12 amputations among the patients they received, many with wounds that had festered for the better part of a week.
That was the case with Sounlove Zamour, the 19-year-old student.
She and her father were home when the quake hit. She remembers trying to run, but the floor split open and she tumbled to the ground as the house collapsed onto her. She was trapped for a full day before being rescued and taken to a hospital in Port-au-Prince. Her father, who provided her sole means of support, didn’t make it out alive.
One of her legs required immediate amputation, she said, but she was initially hopeful that the other could be saved. But at that first hospital, she said, the leg was bandaged without cleaning out the dirt in the wound. Four days after the quake, she was piled onto a bus to Gonaives because the Port-au-Prince hospital was too crowded.
By the time she arrived, her wounded leg was badly infected. It “smelled rotten” when the bandages were removed, she said. She was told it would have to be amputated too.
Now, she doesn’t know what the future will bring. “I have no father,” she said. “I’d like to continue my education, but I can’t.” With her father gone, she said, she can’t afford it.
A week later, she was still in the hospital. With groups like Handicap International focused for now on Port-au-Prince, she had received no offers of help and did not yet know when she might return to the capital and begin her life anew.
Times staff writer Scott Kraft in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.