“When I was 12 years old I had a friend in school with bent legs who had a hard time walking. Nobody wanted to play with her and I was her only friend. I told my mom that I wanted to be a doctor to help people with disabilities like my friend. I know now, after my education, that she had polio. I have tried to find her, but have not been able to yet.”
Sophia never gave up on her childhood ambition and, at the age of 20, applied for medical school in the Dominican Republic, where there were more options for an aspiring student.
“When I got there, the school told us about the different paths we could take in medicine. We could become doctors, dentists, or physical therapists. I had never heard of physical therapy before, so I researched it and found out that physical therapy is exactly what I wanted to do ever since I decided to help people like my friend.”
At the time Sophia could not speak Spanish, so her four-year degree became a five-year degree to allow for language learning. She paid for everything herself and after finishing school spent another year working in the Dominican Republic.
“A friend who worked at Handicap International contacted me and told me about SBH and that they needed a physical therapist. I applied, and they replied back in just three days. I found out afterward that they had been searching for a therapist for eight months. At that point, there were only about 25 physical therapists in all of Haiti.”
HEI/SBH’s Spinal Cord Injury Program, financed by USAID, started as a result of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, receiving its first patients in February 2010. It has now grown to serve over 100 active patients throughout the country.
Kevin Melanson, director of the SCI program, is grateful. “We are truly fortunate to have Sophia working at St. Boniface. Physical therapy is still a relatively new profession in Haiti and having a skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced physical therapist to lead our rehabilitation efforts and provide high-quality care to persons with spinal injuries and other members of our community needing therapy is a great asset to St. Boniface and our patients.”