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Chance Meeting Leads to an International Partnership

Chance Meeting Leads to an International Partnership

When Dr. Sarah Pictor and Cedieu Fortilus first met in October 2016, neither would know the impact their meeting would have on the people of Haiti and those nearly 1,700 miles north at D'Youville. A chance meeting brought about by a mutual friend, that introduction has grown into a partnership that seeks to help the people of Haiti and broaden the learning experiences of the students at D'Youville.

Fortilus manages a rehabilitation clinic in Haiti and serves as co-captain of Team Zaryen, a soccer team made up of individuals who have experienced amputation. Looking to inspire hope in its members, the name ‘zaryen’ comes from the Creole word for tarantula, a spider known for its capability to carry on despite losing a limb. Each of the Team Zaryen members have lost limbs, many because of the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010.

Fortilus was visiting the United States raising funds for the team when he met Pictor, a clinical associate professor of physical therapy here at D’Youville. As their conversation progressed, Fortilus mentioned the Community Rehab Project and its founder Ginger Oliver, a physical therapist from Utica.

Oliver founded the Community Rehab Project in 2012 after visiting Haiti herself and meeting Fortilus in his makeshift clinic on the roof of a hospital in the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. The prosthetics and orthotics lab was where the rehab technicians make the prosthetic legs and braces for the many amputees and disabled people in Haiti.

Pictor’s conversation with Fortilus led to her inviting Oliver to D’Youville in April 2017 to describe and explain what was going on in Haiti. Pictor was so moved by Oliver’s passion and story that she decided she wanted to help.

“Listening to Ginger speak and hearing the plight and disadvantages that these children have and realizing I’ve got an expertise here that needs to be shared, I thought it was time for me to make a trip to Haiti” said Pictor.

Oliver jokingly invited Pictor to join her on her next visit to Haiti later that year. Pictor didn’t hesitate in accepting the invite.

It didn’t take long for Pictor to realize that her traveling down to Haiti for just a week, while greatly appreciated by everyone involved, only served as a band-aid and that there was room for more of an impact.

After returning home in July, Pictor was soon knocking on President Lorrie Clemo’s door and laid out her plans for the Haiti Rehab Project here at D’Youville. By October, Fortilus, along with Wilfrid Macena, were on D’Youville’s campus receiving hands-on training techniques from School of Health Professions students, faculty, and community clinicians.

Thanks to the on-going partnership with Oliver’s Community Rehab Project, Fortilus will be returning to D’Youville this September for two weeks along with John “Eddy” Pierre, a rehabilitation technician from the clinic.

This year, D’Youville will be lending its full educational expertise as Fortilus and Pierre will be attending training from dietetics, physician assistants, physical therapy, occupational therapy, healthcare administration programs, and the IT department personnel of the college.

They’ll learn which foods in Haiti can best help with malnutrition and develop other skills such as hand splinting, pediatric feeding, diabetes and stroke screenings, and telemedicine technology to be able to communicate with experts here at D’Youville year-round.

Pierre, a rehabilitation technician at the clinic, will receive more of the clinical hands-on treatment trainings. As the head of the clinic, Fortilus will benefit immensely by receiving more of the managerial and administration trainings.

A part of what makes Fortilus’ clinic so important isn’t just the therapy and braces he provides, it’s the hope he and those that work for him instill into their patients. After the earthquake, many of those impacted or injured were disowned by their families. “It is essential to help the Haitian community to understand that someone with a disability shouldn’t be seen as less valued in their community or by society,” added Pictor. “Our goal is to provide on-going care to those in need.”


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