Therapist gives armless Haitian child a chance
Susie Ransbottom-Witty, adapted from a first-person account
March 15, 2010

Therapist gives armless Haitian child a chance

Therapist gives armless Haitian child a chance
Susie Ransbottom-Witty, adapted from a first-person account
March 15, 2010

Mikeley is one of thousands

of Haitians who survived the Jan. 12 disaster with injuries that required

amputation and who will have to deal with their new handicaps in a third world

country where disability services are not a top priority.

Amputees must learn to

function with their new disabilities by maneuvering around mounds of cement,

crumpled sidewalks, and unsteady stairways as their homeland struggles to clean

up and rebuild its very basic infrastructure.

Just two years old, Mikeley

toddles around the hospital in diaper and clogs, giggling at American visitors.

Mikeley lost both arms in the event that also killed his four-year-old sister.

His mother and three older

siblings made it out of their home in Leogane alive, but there was no chance to

save his arms when he arrived at the hospital six days later.

Susie Ransbottom-Witty is an

occupational therapist from Dillsboro who specializes in hand therapy and

volunteered in Haiti through N.C. Baptist Men.

She spied Mikeley playing in

the courtyard and knew when she saw him scratch his nose with his toes he would

adapt quickly.

Mikeley, 2, begins to adapt to using his feet to feed himself. He lost both arms in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Susie went to work with a

piece of thermoplastic material she found in the hospital. She heated water

over the stove, which softened the plastic enough that she could mold a cup

holder to ergonomically fit Mikeley’s foot.

He could slide either foot

through the handle and it has some room for his little foot to grow.

He was so proud when he

drank from the cup that his eye gleamed with a smile from behind the new


They also experimented with

a spoon between his toes. He could hold the utensil but when he brought the

spoon to his mouth the food would slide off.

When he gets older and his

toe coordination improves, Susie hopes he will be able to keep an ordinary

spoon level, but for now, she will send a swivel spoon from home that will help

him eat by himself.

Susie and Mikeley worked on

carrying objects between his toes, transferring things from one foot to the

other and passing an object to someone else. Another big accomplishment was

getting Mikeley to carry something under his left stump, which was amputated

just below the elbow.

He was very hesitant to use his

stump because it was still tender but he finally gave it a try and was seen

carrying a rattle under his left arm and a beanie baby in his left foot.

Susie grew tearful when she

talked about Mikeley and the countless others who will need to figure out how

to survive following such potentially debilitating injuries.

She was struck by the sweet,

selfless attitude that so many of the Haitians demonstrated through simple acts

of kindness to each other.

And her heart ached when she

saw many former patients put on a bus and sent back to their villages, which

may or may not still be standing.

“Part of the difficulty for

me emotionally was knowing that all these people with amputations and casts

were being discharged from the hospital with absolutely no place to go,” she


“I heard the story again and

again from interpreters that they didn’t want to leave the hospital” because of

the uncertainty they faced.

Unlike many survivors,

Mikeley has his family to nurture and guide him as he navigates life outside

the hospital.

They will mourn their own

losses and, like most people in the earthquake devastated areas, will begin to

figure out how to live a life of some normalcy one small step at a


(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ransbottom-Witty was among medical

personnel on a recent visit to Haiti. Medical volunteers are still needed.

There is also a need for construction and other disaster recovery specialties.

To find out how you can volunteer, visit www.ncmissions.org.)