The interpreter left and Barbienne found herself sitting on the street outside the U.N. tent. Without the use of her legs she had no way to find food, shelter, or her family – who she hadn’t heard from since the earthquake. Fortunately, a friend heard about her situation and came to find her.
Barbienne was housed in the women’s ward when she arrived at St. Boniface Hospital. SBHF had no previous experience treating spinal cord injury patients, but the staff recognized the monumental need for someone to step up to the challenge. The earthquake had left thousands of people paralyzed without access to care because only a few health centers would care for handicapped patients. Even fewer would offer rehabilitation.
Since then, Barbienne and a number of other spinal cord injury patients have fought to recover and become self-sufficient at SBHF. Barbienne spent a year rehabilitating at St. Boniface before moving back to Port-au-Prince to study information management. However, life there was extremely difficult. “If you are handicapped in Haiti, your life is finished,” she laments. “My family – my father, uncle, and cousins - won’t even talk to me, much less support me. People look at you in a different way.”
“It isn’t hard talking about the earthquake or my life. I can do that. Having to sit in this chair every day for the rest of my life is what is hard,” she says, then pausing to interject perspective, “but I really don’t have the right to be alive. I don’t have the right to have a job or eat food every day.” She leaves unspoken the people who she believes are deserving: those who died on January 12th, 2010 and during the months after. “But, St. Boniface gave me a new life. It is the reason I still exist.”
“Write this for me in the article,” she requests at the end, her sparkling smile replaced with a face of determination.
If you are reading this, I ask that you act on what I am telling you. Your actions give us life.