Two teams of Mercer students and faculty, funded by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, will travel to Haiti on Thursday to help the victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake and lay the groundwork for future trips to help the country and its citizens recover from their wounds, both seen and unseen.
CBF has awarded $50,000 to Dr. Ha Van Vo, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who will lead a team of engineering students to fit prosthetics for Haitians who lost legs during the devastation. Team members will fit approximately 10 prosthetics during their first visit and determine the logistics for a second visit later this summer to fit additional victims. In addition, CBF has funded a $30,000 grant to the Department of Counseling and Human Sciences in Mercer’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies to investigate the prospects of training Haitians to provide post-traumatic stress counseling to the quake’s victims.
Dr. David Lane, counseling program coordinator and professor of counseling, and Reid Doster, a CBF representative, will serve as the assessment team for the first trip, which will take place May 13-17. The two will spend time in Port-au-Prince to assess the availability of facilities and resources needed to train Haitian citizens to serve as lay counselors for Haitians suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the earthquake that claimed the lives of thousands of Haitians. The team currently has a recruitment goal of 15 trainees.
“We see this as something that can be very meaningful for a group of hurting people,” Dr. Lane said.
When they return from the assessment trip, the counseling department will develop a proposal for a return trip designed to get students involved in the training of the lay counselors, Dr. Lane said. “If we can develop a model that works, we would like to eventually provide advanced training to Haitians,” he said. “Essentially, we would train trainers, who can teach fellow Haitians lay counseling.”
Dr. Vo invented a low-cost prosthetic that can be fitted without full customization, which makes it an affordable alternative to those in developing nations who must often go without. Last summer, Dr. Vo and Dr. Ramachandran Radharamanan, a professor in the School of Engineering, led a Mercer On Mission team to work with Vietnamese amputees.
The Haitian earthquake pulverized buildings throughout Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, injuring thousands of people, and many have undergone amputations. According to recent reports, conservative estimates by aid groups suggest that at least 75 people per day face amputations because of the quake. The desperate poverty of the country means that few, if any Haitians, will be able to afford conventional prosthetics.
In March, University Minister and Dean of the Chapel Craig McMahan, who coordinates the Mercer On Mission program, traveled to Haiti with CBF officials to lay the groundwork for this month’s delegation. Upon returning from this summer’s Mercer On Mission triop to Vietnam, he will travel back to Haiti with a Mercer team to fit another 40 amputees. In addition to fitting the amputees, Dr. Vo hopes to work with local officials to explore ways to produce the prosthetics in that country.
Dr. Vo recently expanded his operation into a lab space in the new Science and Engineering Building, where he will be able to manufacture larger numbers of the prosthetics while training Mercer students and the lab technicians who are charged with building labs in developing nations. He and his students will build prosthetics between trips to Haiti and Vietnam to meet the needs of as many amputees as possible, he said.
“We want to do whatever we can to help them,” Dr. Vo said.
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,000 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at three regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.
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