With Israeli help, a champion dances back to Haiti

After surgery on his hand, and a new ‘cool’ prosthetic leg, earthquake victim George Exanesuis heads home to Port au Prince.

Haitian choreographer goes home (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Haitian choreographer goes home
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
While the country was gushing over the visit of Canadian actress Pamela Anderson, who was in Israel this week to participate in the local version of Dancing with the Stars, little did we know that we had a bona fide dance champion visiting for entirely different reasons.
On Sunday, George Exanesuis, a former dance champion and choreographer in his native Haiti, will board a plane from Ben-Gurion Airport back to the earthquake-ravaged city of Port-au-Prince.
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Exanesuis, who was pulled out of the rubble of his home three days after the earthquake shattered the city in January and had to have his right leg amputated, was in Israel for a month undergoing complicated surgery to restore the use of his crushed hand.
“We brought George here because there are no operating rooms in Haiti that are equipped to perform the type of surgery he needed,” said Dr.
Itzhak Siev-Ner, director of orthopedic rehabilitation at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. “Treating his leg was a fairly straightforward procedure, but the serious damage was done to his hand.
His hand was crushed under the rubble, the pressure causing him severe nerve damage that threatened to paralyze it completely.
Here at Sheba we performed an operation to extend his ligaments, which had contracted, and return movement and control to his hand. The rehabilitation process is still long, but he will be able to receive the necessary physiotherapy treatments back in Haiti.”
Exanesuis told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday: “I know that I could never have received this treatment back in Haiti, where there are thousands of people in just as bad, if not worse condition.
I wish to express my thanks to the staff at Sheba and the generous help of the donors,” he said.
Siev-Ner met Exanesuis during his first visit to Haiti, immediately after the earthquake that killed 230,000 people and injured hundreds of thousands more. Siev-Ner was part of an IDF medical mission that went to Haiti to assist in the massive rescue and aid operation, with the Israeli field hospital receiving international recognition for its state-of-the-art equipment and the dedication of its staff.
“When I was there, I was approached by the manager of the hotel we were staying at and he told me about George’s case. The manager had a son who was George’s age who was uninjured in the earthquake and felt guilty that his son had survived unscathed, while George was so severely injured. He introduced me to his case and we began treating him at the local hospital,” Siev-Ner said.
Exanesuis was back on his legs and even back to dancing after the doctors equipped him with a prosthetic leg at the hospital in Haiti, but his hand would have been lost unless he was brought to Israel for the surgery, the doctor said.
With the aid of Magen David Adom, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Friends of Sheba in the United States, funding was raised to sponsor Exanesuis’s flight and medical expenses and last month he arrived at Sheba for the surgery.
Siev-Ner estimated that the cost of the flights, together with the month’s stay at one of Israel’s top rehabilitation establishments, cost upwards of $20,000.
Exanesuis met with the Post right after the farewell party held for him and another Haitian survivor by the patients and staff of Sheba’s rehabilitation center. With the aid of a fellow patient, who translated his words from French, Exanesuis told of his experience and his gratitude to the doctors who helped give him back his quality of life.
“I am 29 years old. In Haiti, I studied computers and managed a dance company. I specialize in classical dancing and teach a range of Latin dances including rumba, chacha, salsa, tango and mambo. In the past I won several dance competitions and was the Haitian champion,” Exanesuis said.
“At the time of the earthquake I was at home and the building crashed down on me. The building contained 10 or 11 rooms and I don’t know what happened to any of my neighbors or if anyone else was injured or died there. I was trapped under rubble for three days and on the third day friends came and rescued me, pulling me out. I had the luck of meeting the Israeli doctors and receiving treatment from Dr. Siev-Ner. They equipped me with a prosthetic leg and in the beginning of October, brought me here for the hand operation,” he said.
During his stay, the doctors at Sheba also shipped in a special prosthetic leg from Germany that would give him better movement in the foot. They decided to give him a leopard-print leg, so that he would look cool.
“I was able to dance with my old prosthetic, so with the new one I should have no problem. I hope to return to Haiti and resume my teaching career,” Exanesuis said.
Exanesuis said he would have been happy to stay in Israel longer and continue receiving the best possible treatment from the physiotherapy and rehabilitation staff, but that he was looking forward to returning to Haiti and his family.
Siev-Ner, who was leaving for a third visit to Haiti on Thursday, said he would meet with Exanesuis back in Port-au-Prince, where he would continue to receive treatment from the Sheba staff.
“We have rotating teams in place in Haiti, continuing to care for the earthquake victims. Conditions there are pretty bad, especially after a hurricane struck the city in early November causing widespread flooding and the outbreak of a cholera epidemic because of the sanitation conditions, but all of our people I speak to say they wouldn’t give up on the opportunity for anything,” Siev-Ner said.
“Friends have urged me not to go back because of the cholera, but I am determined to go. We were in far worse conditions immediately after the earthquake and it is precisely because the conditions are bad that we are needed there,” the dedicated doctor said.