It was a sunny day in the south of Haiti when Jean-Max Felix slammed into the ground. His arm snapped, and pain seared through his body. His parents took him to the local medicine man, but the prescription didn’t work, and soon gangrene set in. Jean-Max was taken to the hospital, and at 11 years old, became an amputee.
This was in 1990, a chaotic year in Haitian history when the national capital was months away from a coup d’état. Two decades later, Haiti is reeling from the effects of a devastating earthquake, and a new wave of amputees. According to the Haitian secretariat for the integration of disabled people, “The earthquake added 3,000 to 4,000 amputees to Haiti’s disabled population of about 800,000.” Helping these amputees come to terms with the loss of limb has been Jean-Max, who now works in the office of finance at Kay Germaine.
“Before the earthquake, I was working as an English teacher in Petion-ville,” he explains, sitting in his office at the 2,300 square foot rehabilitation, physiotherapy and educational center located across the street from St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre. “But then the building collapsed and I was out of a job.” The line is a common refrain from those who, lucky enough to find themselves with a job before January 12th, found themselves joining the estimated 80% unemployed population January 13th. Luckily, Jean-Max had heard about NPFS from a dear friend of his staying at St. Helene, and when the finance position opened up in April, he went for it.
“I work in the office, sure,” he gestures, “but the great part about Kay Germaine is that I also get to interact with the patients. We had an 11-year-old boy come in who had lost his arm from a quake crush injury, and looking at him was like looking at myself 20 years earlier. I sat and talked with him about what life would be like for him, the adjustments he would have to make.” At this point the interview is briefly interrupted with a petty cash request. Jean-Max creatively maneuvers his hand and arms to count, remove, and record the cash from the envelope. “It took a long time for me to be like this, to feel like this,” he insists after he finishes. “The physical and mental adjustments are huge, but after I accepted them, I was able to do whatever I wanted. My hope is that all the new amputees will be able to find the same amount of solace and purpose as me.”