March 3, 2010

Mainers prepare to help Haiti amputees


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Doug Jones/staff photographer: Tuesday, May 20, 2008: Adam Cote of the six Democratic candidates for US 1st Congressional District interviewed by PPH.


Staff Writer

Even as initial responders to the Haitian earthquake struggle to get food, water and medical care to survivors, some Mainers are working to prepare long-term help for hundreds who were maimed in the disaster.

Adam Cote, a former congressional candidate, is heading to Haiti on Monday with a group from the company he works for, Global Relief Technologies, to gather data on amputees who need artificial limbs. He will use the technology the company designs to collect names, addresses and medical data, make measurements of damaged limbs, snap photos and generate wrist bands with bar codes that will help doctors and nurses identify the patients and access their records.

The information will be sent to New England Brace, a New Hampshire-based company with an office in Lewiston, which plans to lead an effort to provide prosthetics for the injured.

Cote, who lives in Portland, said the company is donating the time and equipment. He plans to be in Haiti for up to two weeks, working with Helping Hands for Haiti, a group that has been staffing hospitals and building schools in the impoverished country for about a decade. The organization's hospitals were destroyed in the earthquake, but it has set up field hospitals in the capital, Port-au-Prince, which was devastated by the quake, Cote said.

''They are telling us there are probably 2,500 to 3,000 amputees'' who will need help, Cote said.

Cote, senior vice president of GRT, said his company develops ways to improve the technology that aid workers, such as those with the American Red Cross, use in disaster-response situations. The company designs the software for handheld units on which workers enter information such as the extent of damage, whether utilities are working and other data. They can also use the units to take a picture of a structure, and access a global positioning satellite system for a precise location.

Then the data is sent to a command center and combined with other information gathered by other workers, he said, meaning aid can be rushed to areas where the need is greatest, instead of waiting for paperwork to be gathered and compiled.

In Haiti, the focus will be on injured people rather than damaged buildings.

Cote said New England Brace will set up a database with information on the amputees as the effort moves toward providing long-term care in the weeks ahead.

Dennis Acton, information technology manager for New England Brace, said he will head to Haiti with Cote to help compile data for a few days. He said the company could send a team down and help a few amputees, but by putting together a database and working with other prosthetics manufacturers, they can help hundreds.

''But we certainly can't do this alone,'' he said, noting that the company already provides care to several hundred amputees each year and taking on thousands of others would be overwhelming. ''This will be a larger, sustained effort, so we'll need some support.''

High-tech prosthetics with a lot of moving parts can cost up to $25,000, he said, but the focus for Haitians will be simpler artificial limbs that are sturdier and reliable.

In addition to contacting other companies, Acton said, New England Brace probably will try to arrange a fundraiser to offset some of the costs.

He said the first thing an amputee needs is immediate medical care to ward off infections that could make it impossible to use a prosthetic. Then, in a few weeks or months, the company can turn out an artificial limb to be sent to Haiti. Using GRT's software, he said, the company can work with hospitals in Haiti to make sure each prosthesis gets to the right patient.

''Even in ideal conditions, it's very difficult to fit a prosthesis. That's why this is such a challenge,'' Acton said.

Cote said the group is flying down with a private pilot who is part of a group that provides transportation to aid workers in disasters. He will probably stay in facilities provided by Helping Hands for Haiti.

Cote was in Bosnia and Iraq while in the Army, but said he doesn't know what to expect in Haiti, a country with infrastructure problems even before the earthquake.

''We've just been scrambling'' to arrange the trip, he said. ''I've been to Bosnia and Iraq and wasn't worried about where I was going to sleep.''


Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:


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