LYMAN — Buried alive for four days after January’s devastating earthquake hit Haiti, Kesner “Salvi” Salvent didn’t know whether he would live to walk, see the sun or ride his motorcycle – or pick up his brush to create more colorful paintings showing the landscape and people of his native country.

When rescuers retrieved his crumpled body from under a pile of rubble in Port-au-Prince, Salvent had a severe spinal cord injury. Unable to move, he was shuttled from hospital to hospital until he was taken to a U.S. Navy hospital ship, where he underwent surgery.

He was then taken to a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta, but it wasn’t only his legs that needed work. His hands had trouble even holding a fork, let alone a paintbrush. His cervical injury damaged the motor functions in his hands and wrists.

But he’s back painting now, after months of additional rehabilitation in Maine that has included conventional therapy in a hospital, as well as occupational and physical therapy at a horse farm that has helped strengthen his hands and fingers by driving a carriage.

On a recent day at Spring Creek Farm, Salvent worked his hands and wrists by maneuvering the reins and a crop from his seat in a two-wheeled carriage that was being pulled around a ring behind a horse named Kenny.

The exercise, he said, is hard on his still-hurting fingers. But he accepts that pain is part of the recovery process.

“I can paint,” he said. “I’m in life now.”

Salvent, 26, grew up in Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti and earned money selling his paintings. He moved to Port-au-Prince three years ago, where he worked construction for his daily job while creating his colorful acrylics on the side.

But his life took an abrupt turn Jan. 12, when the earthquake struck. He was in downtown Port-au-Prince, where a building tumbled on top of him. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t see. He could hear movement now and again above him, but when he tried to scream for help, nothing came out.

Salvent now has a scar several inches long on his neck, the result of his surgery on board the hospital ship, the USNS Comfort. After his surgery, he was taken to the Shepherd Center hospital in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord treatment and rehabilitation. He had never been away from Haiti, and he spoke no English – Creole is his native tongue.

He later came to Maine at the urging of one of his best friends, who is married to a woman from Maine and now lives in Kennebunkport. Salvent is staying with his friend’s wife’s parents.

For months he has undergone physical and occupational therapy at a nearby hospital. And for two months beginning in September, he went once a week to a place known as Equest Therapeutic Riding Center, at the 150-acre Spring Creek Farm in this town 25 miles south of Portland. Equest has treated more than 2,500 patients from ages 2 to 102 for everything from autism and multiple sclerosis to brain injuries and retardation.

Therapists have helped soldiers and students and housewives and amputees, but Salvent was the first earthquake survivor.

“When he first came here, he had trouble holding utensils, and he couldn’t hold a pen,” said Sue Grant, a physical therapist who has been working with Salvent.

Salvent now can offer a firm handshake and has no problem holding things. But his hands’ fine motor skills still need work, and his painting isn’t back to where he’d like it to be. Still, he feels the need to paint.

At Shepherd Center, Dr. Donald Leslie, the medical director, got Salvent an easel and canvasses so he could paint while undergoing rehabilitation there. The hospital staff had to fit his hand and wrist with a special brace and make custom attachments for his paintbrushes simply so he could apply paint to canvas.

Today, one of Salvent’s works hangs on Leslie’s office wall showing a beach in Haiti with two boats, blue skies and a palm tree front and center.

“He was very passionate about his painting. And he’s talented,” Leslie said in a phone interview from Atlanta.

As he spoke, Leslie received an e-mail from Salvent expressing again his appreciation for all the help and encouragement Leslie has given him.

“Thank you for being an amazing friend to me,” the e-mail read. “I’m going to start another painting for you soon.”

Salvent is slowly bringing himself to paint, said Pam Lee, who is putting Salvent up in her and her husband’s home.

“He’s feeling better about painting now. Those weeks at Equest have put the finishing touches on his hands,” Lee said. “He’s not 100 percent. But he’s well on his way to 100 percent.”

He has at least one more painting he has promised – to the doctor who performed the surgery on him after his rescue.

“Three days after my surgery, I stand,” Salvent said in his halting English. “I talked to my doctor and said, ‘Someday I have to paint a painting for you. I’m going to do that for you.’

“‘I’m going to show you that God loves me. I’m lucky, and God had a plan for me. I have to show you.'”