Therapist gives armless Haitian child a chance
    March 15 2010 by Susie Ransbottom-Witty, adapted from a first-person account

    Mikeley is one of thousands of Haitians who survived the Jan. 12 disaster with injuries that required amputation and who will have to deal with their new handicaps in a third world country where disability services are not a top priority.

    Amputees must learn to function with their new disabilities by maneuvering around mounds of cement, crumpled sidewalks, and unsteady stairways as their homeland struggles to clean up and rebuild its very basic infrastructure.

    Just two years old, Mikeley toddles around the hospital in diaper and clogs, giggling at American visitors. Mikeley lost both arms in the event that also killed his four-year-old sister.

    His mother and three older siblings made it out of their home in Leogane alive, but there was no chance to save his arms when he arrived at the hospital six days later.

    Susie Ransbottom-Witty is an occupational therapist from Dillsboro who specializes in hand therapy and volunteered in Haiti through N.C. Baptist Men.

    She spied Mikeley playing in the courtyard and knew when she saw him scratch his nose with his toes he would adapt quickly.

    Mikeley, 2, begins to adapt to using his feet to feed himself. He lost both arms in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

    Susie went to work with a piece of thermoplastic material she found in the hospital. She heated water over the stove, which softened the plastic enough that she could mold a cup holder to ergonomically fit Mikeley’s foot.

    He could slide either foot through the handle and it has some room for his little foot to grow.

    He was so proud when he drank from the cup that his eye gleamed with a smile from behind the new contraption.

    They also experimented with a spoon between his toes. He could hold the utensil but when he brought the spoon to his mouth the food would slide off.  

    When he gets older and his toe coordination improves, Susie hopes he will be able to keep an ordinary spoon level, but for now, she will send a swivel spoon from home that will help him eat by himself.

    Susie and Mikeley worked on carrying objects between his toes, transferring things from one foot to the other and passing an object to someone else. Another big accomplishment was getting Mikeley to carry something under his left stump, which was amputated just below the elbow.

    He was very hesitant to use his stump because it was still tender but he finally gave it a try and was seen carrying a rattle under his left arm and a beanie baby in his left foot.  

    Susie grew tearful when she talked about Mikeley and the countless others who will need to figure out how to survive following such potentially debilitating injuries.

    She was struck by the sweet, selfless attitude that so many of the Haitians demonstrated through simple acts of kindness to each other.

    And her heart ached when she saw many former patients put on a bus and sent back to their villages, which may or may not still be standing.

    “Part of the difficulty for me emotionally was knowing that all these people with amputations and casts were being discharged from the hospital with absolutely no place to go,” she said.  “I heard the story again and again from interpreters that they didn’t want to leave the hospital” because of the uncertainty they faced.

    Unlike many survivors, Mikeley has his family to nurture and guide him as he navigates life outside the hospital.

    They will mourn their own losses and, like most people in the earthquake devastated areas, will begin to figure out how to live a life of some normalcy one small step at a time.  

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Ransbottom-Witty was among medical personnel on a recent visit to Haiti. Medical volunteers are still needed. There is also a need for construction and other disaster recovery specialties. To find out how you can volunteer, visit
    3/15/2010 5:52:00 AM by Susie Ransbottom-Witty, adapted from a first-person account | with 0 comments

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