Maxsony knows more about the challenges created by the earthquake than most. By all accounts, he is fortunate to even be alive. He walked into secondary school on January 12th, 2010, a Tuesday morning, and was pulled from the wreckage that Friday afternoon. As he blinkingly adjusted to the light and tried to orient himself for the first time in three days, he found that he could no longer use his legs.
Maxsony’s real name, Osney Personna, was the one recorded by the Haitian General Hospital when he arrived, and then again as he disembarked the helicopter that carried him to the U.S.N.S. Comfort hospital ship anchored in the bay. However, neither the Haitian government nor the American Navy had the capacity to provide him with long-term spinal cord injury care and rehabilitation. On Valentine’s Day 2010, St. Boniface Hospital recorded the patient intake of Osney Personna who, over the next five years, would move from recovery to rehabilitation to employment in the SBHF Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) program.
Every day, Maxsony wheels his “chèz woulant,” Haitian Creole for “wheelchair,” from his house near the Fond-des-Blancs market to his work at the SCI Center at St. Boniface Hospital, about half a mile uphill. He began working for SCI about a year and a half after the earthquake. In his role, he does home visits with the outpatient team, leads rehabilitation activities, and visits local schools to raise awareness about the lives of handicapped people.
Maxsony’s own experiences give him unique insight into the barriers between handicapped people and the rest of the Haitian population. Part of the problem, he says, is the pervasive belief that handicapped people can’t support normal lives, “Haitians don’t like people in wheelchairs. They think that you can’t support others, and you can’t have children. You are a burden.” As someone who lived the first 24 years of his life free of handicaps, even he had a difficult time accepting the challenges, “I couldn’t accept my handicap and my condition, but St. Boniface helped me do that.”
Now he takes his knowledge and understanding out into the community, “I help handicapped children find their place at school. Many don’t believe that these children have the right to even go to school. But, we have been able to be a part of changing these ideas.” Maxsony explains that many of these sentiments are also shifting in the larger community, “Not everybody in Fond-des-Blancs understands, but many people’s ideas have changed about men and women who have handicaps.
Though Maxsony has devoted his life to alleviating these burdens for others, he still faces challenges of his own, all stemming from that fateful day, five years ago. “I can’t get around easily because I can’t ride a motorcycle. I can’t have and support a family like I could have before. And, there are times when I can’t even enter a building without asking for help to get up a ramp or over a step.”
But, life continues.