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Christman and Nowacki Tell Tales of Hope from Haiti

Mary Christman with several Haitian friends

Devastated by an earthquake over a year ago, Haiti is a country is in dire need of help. Many people from all over the world travel to Haiti to help. Mary Christman (pictured at left with several Haitian friends) and Kelly Nowacki, both of the Meramec Physical Therapist Assistant program, are two of them.

Christman, who has been going to Haiti for seven years, and Nowacki, who has been going for five years, have been working with the Rehabilitation Technician training Program through Health Volunteers Overseas training physical therapists. In a country of almost 9 million people, there were only two physical therapists to serve the population.  Now, thanks to the efforts of Christman and Nowacki in the Rehabilitation Technician program, there are 89 graduates.

“I got involved because I was ready to do something besides working here,” Christman said.

“From the rehab tech program, we’ve trained several Haitians,” said Nowacki, “Since the earthquake, they feel so useful and wanted, so it’s helped that the people that were educated are all working and they can give back to their country….I think the program became way more important after the earthquake.”

Not only did they train therapists, they treated citizens of La Chapelle, many with injuries as serious as crushed spinal cords and amputations. One boy, a seven-year-old named Jean-Kelly, was stuck in the rubble of a building for eight days with muscles ripped off one arm, a severe leg injury, and even losing an eye.

“He had a great spirit,” Christman said, “He brought joy to everybody…he was just a happy child.  He was helping all these other little kids get through their day.”  She added, “He was a favorite of many people…At the end, his mom asked me to adopt him.  She said ‘I want you to take him.’ This kid, I was in love with him.  I would have taken him in a heartbeat if I was younger.”

Christman and Nowacki talk fondly of the positive outlook of Haitians amidst the death and destruction.

“Everybody helps everybody, it doesn’t matter if they’re your family or your neighbor or your friends.” Nowacki said,

“They don’t want a handout, they would rather that you taught them how to do the skill so when we leave they can continue to do it.” 

“The nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life live in Haiti,” said Christman.