A 23-year-old woman who witnessed concrete walls kill a child during the Haiti earthquake is physically and mentally traumatized.
“I was crying,” said Fabiola Venant through a French and Creole interpreter. “I feel sad seeing the people die. The house was shaking, and concrete was falling on me.”
The toppling concrete crushed her hip, putting her in a Port-au-Prince hospital for eight months located in one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Her Haitian surgeon was unable to help her, and, for the past year, she has relied on a single crutch, getting around with a painful, noticeable limp.
“How could anyone living through that not have emotional and mental trauma?” asked Dr. Robert Schultz, an orthopedic surgeon at Billings Clinic. “You’ve got to expect some.”
Though her hip was severely damaged and Venant was hospitalized away from her parents and six siblings, she was still one of the lucky ones.
More than 300,000 Haitians were killed in the January 2010 earthquake that reduced much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, to rubble.
And, her luck — or fate — didn’t stop there.
In an American city 2,500 miles away was Schultz, who specializes in orthopedic trauma.
Last fall, Schultz attended a worldwide professional conference, Surgical Implant Generation Network, where he met a Haitian colleague who spoke of his frustration and inability to help Venant. The Haitian doctor showed the young woman’s X-rays to Schultz, who knew immediately that she needed a hip replacement. He then offered to bring her to Billings for the procedure at his expense.
Schultz and his wife, Nancy, opened their home to this stranger both pre- and post-op. Venant arrived in the city on March 19 and underwent surgery on March 23. And after two hours of intense physical therapy each day since, she is scheduled to leave Billings on Sunday.
“We’ll miss her,” Schultz said. “She’s almost become the daughter we never had.”
Venant, painfully shy and soft-spoken, said she is “sad” to leave and is feeling “very good.” And, through her interpreter, she said she is excited to have so many people surround her and support her.
Schultz and an entire team of medical providers at Billings Clinic donated time, services and equipment totaling at least $50,000.
Schultz called the opportunity his way, and the hospital’s way, of giving back. He said the new hip should last her for at least 30 to 40 years.
He predicts she will be able to do anything she wants, except run and jump.
“She’s only one person,” Schultz said. “But that’s how we fix things, one person at a time. She had no opportunity and no hope of ever having this done there.”
Her goal when she lands on the Haiti tarmac is to “walk off the plane.”
After that, she has a list of priorities. First on the list is finishing high school and studying English.