PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Wilfrid Macena was a welder who built gas station tanks for a living when the devastating 2010 earthquake toppled a wall at the garage where he worked and crushed his right leg.
H was unable to reach a hospital for seven days and his knee became infected, forcing doctors to amputate most of his leg. Several weeks later, he came to an institution run by Haiti’s Episcopal Church in downtown Port-au-Prince where a small group of disabled workers were fitting victims with prosthetics and received his first artificial leg.
“It’s like I got a brand new life,” he recalled, adding that one of the workers at St. Vincent’s Center convinced him to join their team, assuring him that it was similar to welding.
In July 2010, six months after the earthquake, he built his first prosthetic — a job that took him three days.
Now, nine years and more than 3,000 prosthetics later, he’s still at it, and it takes only four hours. Most of those have gone to people like him who lost a limb in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake estimated to have killed 300,000 or more.
“We’re still seeing new patients,” he said, adding that an elderly woman who lost both legs in the earthquake recently came by the center. “She wants to move, go to church.”
The workers at St. Vincent’s Center were all taught by 60-year-old Emmanuel Celicourt, who is unable to speak and has been working at the center for decades. Overall, they have made some 8,000 prostheses since the quake, although now only about 15 percent of people seeking help are earthquake victims.
Macena said being an amputee helps him relate to patients and inspires confidence in them.
“People understand me better than someone who has two legs,” said Macena, who also is captain of a soccer team and has taught athletes how to play with crutches.