Haiti-bound man passionate about aiding amputees

Haiti’s devastating earthquake on Jan. 12 crushed people’s homes, shattered their spirits and, in some cases, broke their bones so badly that an amputation was required.

But help is on the way.

A Jewish man from Santa Rosa who makes prosthetic limbs is planning to travel within the next two months to Haiti, where he hopes to outfit at least 100 people with artificial arms and legs.

Jon Batzdorff, 58, does this kind of work regularly. He’s been to Mexico, India, Lithuania, Bolivia, Turkey and Russia. Each time, he has brought tools to outfit amputees with prosthetic limbs and assurances that they will walk again.

“Everybody has something they’re passionate about, and for me, this is what it is,” he said.

Jon Batzdorff and ProsthetiKa helped outfit this young girl with an artificial leg in Mexico.

Batzdorff has been in private practice for 25 years. His clinic, Sierra Orthopedic Laboratory, serves 1,000 patients annually. To bring his expertise to poor or developing communities abroad, Batzdorff created the nonprofit ProsthetiKa about five years ago.

“On a day-to-day basis, I see the immediate results of what I do — people can roll into my clinic in a wheelchair and walk out on a prosthesis,” Batzdorff said.

According to Handicap International, total amputations as a result of the Haiti earthquake will reach 4,000; Haitian government officials believe the number could be even higher (6,000 to 8,000) due to mismanaged injuries that end up being amputations.

Making matters worse, the country’s only prosthetic fitting center in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in the 7.0 quake. Batzdorff typically works out of a local prosthetic clinic, but because one no longer exists in Haiti, he has to build his own.

He’s creating a prosthetic fitting lab in two 8-by-20-foot shipping containers. Like a blood mobile, the portable prosthetic lab will be fully functional with air-conditioning, windows, lights, and the tools needed to manufacture a prosthetic limb that the International Red Cross developed for land mine victims. Made of affordable, recycled plastic, it will not rust in Haiti’s tropical climate.

The shipping containers will be sent by truck to New Orleans, and then travel by barge to Haiti. The entire project — construction, shipping, prosthetic materials and training health workers — will cost ProsthetiKa $150,000. The organization has raised half of that amount so far.

In two months, the portable lab will arrive on the grounds of Port-au-Prince’s Adventist Hospital with materials to make 100 prosthetic legs, and more if needed.

“The containers will stay as a permanent resource,” Batzdorff said, “so that not only earthquake victims will benefit, but also all who needed the facilities before the earthquake. There were many disabled people who were already there in this harsh and fragile environment, and those people are also without resources and places to go and get fit for prostheses.”

Each artificial limb should take about a week to complete. Batzdorff expects to make mostly legs, based on assessments from colleagues.

Batzdorff at work in his shop in Santa Rosa. j. file photo

Treatment does not end once patients get their prosthetic arm or leg. The artificial limb needs constant upkeep; otherwise, within months it will no longer fit and will become worthless, Batzdorff said.

To prevent this from happening, ProsthetiKa also trains locals on how to manage the aftercare.

“Prostheses need follow-up adjustments, replacements and repair, and if nobody locally knows how to do that, then you create a dependency and they have to call on us to come back — we don’t want to create that dependency,” Batzdorff said. “So we always include a training component in what we do, so that our work is sustainable. It’s like teaching someone to fish instead of giving them the fish.”

Batzdorff and his wife, Rose, are active members of two Santa Rosa synagogues, Congregation Shomrei Torah and Congregation Beth Ami.

“We’ve been in the community for so long, and there was only Beth Ami when we moved here,” Batzdorff said. After the Reform Shomrei Torah was founded in 1974, “rather than make a choice, we joined both.”

Batzdorff was born in Delaware; his parents are Holocaust survivors.

“The people I work with are also survivors,” Batzdorff said. “They ask me, ‘Will I walk again?’ and I say, ‘I just make the tools. You have to do it.’”

To make a tax-deductible donation to rebuild prosthetic services in Haiti, go to www.prosthetika.com or send checks to ProsthetiKa at 1275 Fourth St., #609, Santa Rosa, CA 95404.

Stacey Palevsky