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Rotary Happenings: Rotary listens to Haiti volunteer’s stories

By Staff | Mar 2, 2016

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary often welcomes Rotarians from around the world at our Friday morning meetings. Some visit Sanibel or Captiva for a week or two and some stay the whole season making it a point to attend our weekly meetings.

A few are house guests of one of our Sanibel-Captiva Rotarians and upon occasion are asked to speak to the club about service projects they have participated in using their professional skills.

So, when club Rotarian, Rene Lohser, knew that his friend Reto Weder from Switzerland was scheduled to visit with him last week, he asked Reto to speak to our club about his experiences volunteering in Haiti.

Reto retired and sold his highly successful orthopedic and prosthetic practice in Rheintal, Switzerland in 2008 but had the realization, he was not really ready to give up his professional involvement and retire fully.

On January 12, 2010, the country of Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake centered in the highly populated city of Port Au Prince.

Most of the buildings in Port Au Prince were constructed of cement block and other concrete building materials. When the earthquake struck, the collapse of these buildings and falling construction material severely crushed thousands of people.

Falling buildings severed limbs and thousands of survivors had to have emergency amputations.

Two months after this earthquake, Reto was asked if he might be interested in going to Haiti and using his prosthetic lab skills to fit and construct prosthetics for amputees in Deschapelles, Haiti, north of Port Au Prince.

It didn’t take long and Reto soon found himself on a plane to Haiti. Landing at the partially destroyed airport in Port Au Prince he made his way through the crowded airport to transport to Deschapelles.

The seven-hour adventure began in the dark of night, traveling over mountainous roads lit only by the light of roadside fires, arriving in Deschapelles at 5:45 am.

He took a shower and went right to work seeing patients at 7:00 a.m., that day. Reto saw seven patients that first day.

Prosthetics had to be measured for, built, and fitted within a short period of time. There were no real accommodations available at the medical facility for patients.

Weder soon realized he could not use long-drying material to make prosthetic casts in this lab, so he improvised by using quick-dry casting bandages for this purpose.

No prosthetic fitting tools were available in the lab, so Reto pulled out his trusty Swiss-Army knife and went to work.

The exhaustion of his trip was soon forgotten. His work in Haiti had just begun.

Around twenty-five amputees were waiting for him the next day. So, went his days in Deschapelles, seeing about twenty patients a day that arrived at the lab between 5:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. each day.

After being fitted with their prosthetics, patients spent time with a physical therapist learning how to use and properly take care of their new artificial limbs.

Patients had to adapt quickly because the facilities had limited accommodations and most left for home within a short period of time. A few patients stay on and help to motivate new patients acclimate to their prosthesis.

Reto Weder has definitely bonded with the people of Haiti. He has formed strong relationships with the team working in the prosthesis lab and has returned twice more after that initial visit in 2010.

Summing up his experiences in Haiti he told us, “My experience in Haiti is the highlight of my career; it amazed me, and inspired me.”

Reto’s home club-Rotary Club of Rheintal, Switzerland has supported this work in Haiti and received $140,000 matching funds from Rotary Club?s across America.

In closing, I will say, “A picture is worth a thousand words” – Reto’s video slide show presentation told the whole story wide-beautiful- board smiles on the faces of those wearing their new prosthetics they realized true joy in every step and every movement they could make on their own again.

A quote Reto likes, “Go to the people, live among them, learn from them, love them, serve them, plan with them, start with what they know, and build on what they have.”

Dr. Y. C. Yen Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets Friday mornings at 7:00 a.m, at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club. Guests are always welcomed.