Haiti quake survivor returns home after 6 months

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In a three-hour operation, surgeons at Northwestern Memorial Hospital stabilized Suy’s broken bones with titanium rods and screws. Their aim was to remove pressure on the spinal cord and prevent additional nerve damage, while allowing the surrounding bones to heal.

Afterward, Suy was still unable to move his legs. He had little sensation below his waist, except for patchy feeling in his thighs.

Ivankovich told him: “My friend, you’re paralyzed. You’re going to be in a wheelchair and this is just what you need to accept.”

Suy had other ideas.

He was moved to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, one of the nation’s best-known hospitals for brain and spinal cord injuries. Humanitarian funds at Northwestern and the hospital paid for the treatment, which would normally have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The 18-story center stands in Chicago’s glittery Gold Coast neighborhood, lined with swank shops, posh hotels and gleaming skyscrapers. Suy, who was used to tropical heat, arrived in the dead of Chicago’s bitter-cold winter. The buildings were gigantic, the language strange, his broken body seemed foreign _ it all felt like another universe.

“He looked like he had seen a ghost. He seemed pretty shell-shocked,” recalls Kate Silverman, a French-speaking rehab therapist who worked with him.

Suy was haunted by terrifying flashbacks from the earthquake. He wouldn’t eat strange-tasting American food, and couldn’t sleep because the U.S-sized hospital room seemed huge. A room that big in Haiti would house at least five people.

But Suy listened when Silverman said he needed to eat to get strong. And gradually, he did.

Rehab therapists doted on the handsome foreign student and put him through months of rigorous, painful workouts to rebuild his body. His daily routine became several hours of physical therapy _ leg lifts from his wheelchair, tossing a big rubber ball, scooting down parallel bars on his arms. The hope was that some neurological function would return.

“It’s OK if it’s hard,” a therapist told him.

“It’s not hard,” Suy insisted.

One day in March during a visit from Ivankovich, Suy lifted a leg up off his bed. The doctor was stunned.

“It was miraculous. It was the kind of recovery that we couldn’t even have fantasized about,” Ivankovich said.

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