Just as he walked outside, the earth began to pitch and roll. A strange, inhuman shriek rose from the ground like a thousand breaking bones. Wilfrid dropped his tools and tried to run, but the buckling soil tripped him. He put his hands out to brace himself, one on an old coconut tree and another on the heavy brick wall surrounding the workshop.

As he tried to sprint to an open area, an electrical cable caught him around the neck like a noose. When he tore it away from his throat, the live wire melted through his shirt and into the skin on his right shoulder. He sank to the trembling earth in pain, then tried to run again but fell. He staggered once more to his feet, but the earthquake floored him for a fourth and final time.

The wall crashed like thunder all around Wilfrid. Pain tore through his body. When the dust cleared, Wilfrid could see the blood seep into the packed dirt beneath his right leg. And when he brushed aside the brick fragments, he spotted the white of his tibia poking through his dark skin. He pulled off his T-shirt, wrapped it around his shredded shin, and screamed for help.

Tiny plaster casts sit in the Bernard Mevs prosthetics lab. The earthquake left more than 4,000 Haitians missing a limb, but very few hospitals there fit artificial legs.
Photo by George Martinez
Tiny plaster casts sit in the Bernard Mevs prosthetics lab. The earthquake left more than 4,000 Haitians missing a limb, but very few hospitals there fit artificial legs.
Natanael Louissant, 15, is helped into Bernard Mevs by her father. Doctors believe she contracted hemorrhagic dengue fever.
Photo by George Martinez
Natanael Louissant, 15, is helped into Bernard Mevs by her father. Doctors believe she contracted hemorrhagic dengue fever.

Seconds later, Wilfrid's boss, a businessman known only as Dady, arrived and carried him to the street. He boosted the younger man onto the back of a pickup truck and drove toward a hospital downtown. But the earthquake had left Boulevard Jean Jacques Desalines a nightmarish landscape of crumbled buildings, honking cars, and dazed victims. A drive that normally took 20 minutes lasted four hours. Finally, the pickup inched down a steep hill in central Port-au-Prince and around a corner, but the path was blocked by concrete slabs.

"Leave me in the street," Wilfrid pleaded. Instead, his boss hailed a passing motorbike. Promising to tell Macena's family that the young man was alive and to return with help, Dady rode the bike into the darkness.

The pickup didn't move. From the back, Wilfrid heard cries of "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" ring out over the ink-black city. Men pushed wheelbarrows full of the injured. Fires burned in the distance. Nearby, a young girl's corpse lay in the rubble. The bed of the truck grew sticky with Wilfrid's blood. I'm going to die here, he thought.

As he awaited help, Wilfrid recalled his parents' small sugarcane farm near the port city of Miragoane. He had played soccer in the fields with his 14 brothers and sisters and flown ornate kites fashioned from banana leaves.

And he thought of Simone, a beautiful, light-skinned girl in a white dress whom he had met at church. Though she lived far away in Port-au-Prince, he brashly pronounced that day: "I love you. You and I are going to be together." Wilfrid was only 16 years old, Simone a year his senior.

Wilfrid kept his promise and followed her to Port-au-Prince, where he won over her father by reciting Bible verses. In 2003, they married in a large gospel-filled ceremony. Six years later, Simone gave birth to a boy: Wilflamson. By then, Wilfrid had bought his own generator and welding tools. He had thought, 2010 is going to be a good year. Then the quake annihilated his homeland.

As dawn broke, Wilfrid woke up in the truck bed feeling stronger. He asked a passerby to go to his sister Luciana's house for help. A few hours later, she appeared and broke into tears at the sight of her little brother's crumpled and bloody body. Dady returned with bad news. There were no hospital beds available. Dady drove Wilfrid home.

For three days, in a home without a roof, Wilfrid cleaned the compound fracture with hydrogen peroxide and changed the dressing. But the leg grew stiff and swollen. His boss took him to Adventist Hospital in Diquini, a few miles away, but no doctor showed up for four days. Finally, a cousin drove him three hours away to Bon Samaritan Hospital in Jimaní, Dominican Republic. There, doctors set the bone, but the flesh was already gangrenous.

An American doctor said he had a choice: lose the leg above the knee or die from infection.

"Cut away," he responded.


Two months later, when Wilfrid arrived on crutches at the Port-au-Prince airport, he was taken to a bustling hospital unimaginable before the earthquake. Dozens of scrubbed American volunteers raced among three circus-sized tents filled with patients. Many — like Wilfrid — had been injured in the earthquake but never seen by a doctor.

The hospital was run by Project Medishare. Barth Green, a neurosurgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, had founded the nonprofit in 1994. He was a loquacious man in his 60s with slicked-back silver hair. At first, Green and others had run small clinics in the remote central plateau. After the earthquake, the doctor borrowed a friend's private jet, recruited other physicians, and, he says, "set a course for the Dominican Republic legally. Then we just turned right and landed [in Haiti]. The airport was barren. Part of the runway was buckled. The terminal had collapsed. So we went to the U.N., which had an installation on the edge of the airport. All their guys were killed, but they had a couple of meeting tents that weren't destroyed, and in them were hundreds of dying and dead Haitians. We walked in, and there was one doctor, and she had nothing except for her purse. She burst into tears when she saw us. So we just took over."

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