China

China: Red Cross rehabilitation center bringing hope to amputees

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Some survivors are facing emotional and physical pain after losing their limbs due to the earthquake. Many more are looking positively into the future.

Francis Markus, International Federation, in Deyang, Sichuan

For a 16-year-old lad who enjoys playing basketball, one can only imagine the shock, loss, and physical pain of having to have a leg amputated.

But Tang Lei, a young survivor of China's devastating May 12 earthquake, seems in bouncy spirits as he propels himself ahead on his crutches, flanked by his mother. They are on their way to see if his wound has healed sufficiently to fit an artificial leg.

"I still practice basketball shots," he says, when asked how he passes the long months in the hospital. His is upbeat and perseverant, despite that he must either hop or ride in a wheel chair.

Tang is one of the many survivors at the Red Cross hospital for Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine in the city of Deyang, deep in the earthquake zone of Sichuan Province.

Full of patients in tents during the weeks after the disaster, the hospital is still the main center for treating thousands of survivors left injured by the force of the earthquake.

This vital hospital may still be standing, but its infrastructure was badly battered by the disaster. "Our most urgent need is to replace three vital pieces of equipment, an ultrasound machine, a biochemical analysis system and an X-ray machine, which were all damaged," says Dr. Dai Bojun, the Vice Director at the Red Cross hospital.

But the equipment, with a cost of about 2.6 million RMB (USD $392,000), is only the tip of the iceberg.

"People around the earthquake zone will need continuing care and assistance for years to come in order to regain their resilience. So the facilities that they have here need to be expanded and improved," says Dr. Jeya Kulasingam, the Health and Psychological Support Delegate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (International Federation).

Marching up and down a flight of stairs, pumping legs and kneading atrophied muscles, a couple of dozen men, women and children are hard at work in the rehabilitation room inside the hospital building.

"I am doing about three or four hours of exercises a day," says Tang Rongbi, 34, with the spikes of a rehabilitative brace protruding painfully from her leg. She suffered multiple breaks when a wall collapsed on her.

Another amputee, Li Xianfeng, 43, seems cheerful as she talks about her improving level of fitness. When asked by a first-time visitor about her family, her face turned sullen. "My family situation is very bad," she says, not wanting to elaborate. Local Red Cross workers explain later that she lost her husband and several other family members.

"We need to address both physical and psychosocial needs as part of an integrated approach to help rebuild the earthquake-affected communities," says Dr Jeya. That often includes helping with the most practical issues, such as getting survivors to the hospital for follow-up care if they have transport difficulties.

In a village about 60 kilometers from Deyang, Xu Xingrong is still hobbling on crutches around her courtyard, where a tent stands in front of the family's collapsed house. But her mobility is steadily improving.

She also sports a painful leg brace for a multiple fracture. During a recent assessment mission to her township, Red Cross staff helped her travel to the Deyang Hospital for a checkup. In an effort to improve community health, the International Federation has been providing clean drinking water and proper sanitation to her village.

But that's only one strand in the integrated programming being developed by the Red Cross Society of China, with support from the International Federation and the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross is expecting to contribute $50 million to the recovery efforts, which includes rebuilding homes for rural families, providing clean drinking water and preparing communities for future disasters.

The future for Xu and her husband is full of challenges, but there is at least a clear set of goals: "I hope I can recover as fast as possible so we can start rebuilding our home, as well as earn enough income to pay for our children's school expenses," she says with a grin.

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