Hands (and Legs) Across the Hemisphere
The last thing Danny Bennett remembers about the night of August 24, 2013, is leaving Roatan’s West End on his scooter to return to his home in Red Hill, just east of Sandy Bay. The next thing he remembers is waking up in Roatan Hospital 15 hours later, his leg broken in five places.
“My friends told me what happened, because I don’t really remember anything,” Danny said. “The only thing I remember is leaving West End.”
Despite the best efforts of friends and well-wishers (see related article), Danny eventually lost the leg … but not his spirit. And as of yesterday, he’s walking around comfortably on a new custom-fit one donated by a Canadian prosthetist (expert in artificial limbs). He said it felt good.
At the time of the accident, Danny, then 18, worked as a DJ in local clubs. He and a group of friends had gone to West End on a Saturday night. Just before 3 a.m., after the clubs closed, they were heading home through Sandy Bay on three scooters.
“We were going up the hill of Lawson Rock,” Danny said. “A taxi driver was coming in our lane. And he had his lights off.” Danny swerved to try to avoid the taxi. But he said his scooter was clipped by the left-front turning light and thrown into the air. When he came down, the scooter landed on top of his left leg, crushing it. He had two fractures above the knee and three below. One friend suffered a broken arm. The driver of the third scooter was essentially unharmed, Danny said.
Danny was rushed to Roatan Hospital, where he was given 12 pints of blood – unfortunately not of the right type.
“The Doctor, he said that they didn’t have my type of blood at the moment,” Danny recalled. “He said if they didn’t put any blood in me I was going to die. So he had to put another blood.”
The hospital also did not have the necessary pins, plates and screws to repair the leg, according to Maricella Welcome, a friend of Danny’s who launched a Facebook appeal at the time to raise funds to help Danny. The appeal raised enough for two operations. But Danny’s kidneys began to fail. He had to be transported to the Mainland.
“I was on dialysis for a week,” Danny said. “I couldn’t eat or drink anything.”
When his kidneys began to function normally again, doctors considered plastic surgery to repair some of the external damage to his leg.
“That was when we were in the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa,” Danny said. “The head doctor that looked at me, he said that it was a waste of time to try and fix it up,” because the replacement skin would have just gotten infected. The doctor said it would be “a lot better to just amputate it.” Doctors amputated Danny’s left leg about six inches below the knee in late 2013. A metal rod was inserted into his left thigh.
Not long after Danny returned home from the hospital and was getting around on a cane, a group of volunteers from North America, including Tabor Melwood, an artificial limb specialist in Calgary, learned of his case more or less by happenstance.
Melwood’s father-in-law, Andrew Bentley, was about to lead a group to Roatan to help with some school construction projects, and Melwood decided to go along. Bentley phoned his contact with the Education Department on Roatan, Natelee Forbes, to find out whether there might be a way to take advantage of Melwood’s expertise.
“We were coming down for Helping Children of the World – H-Cow as we call it,” said Bentley, who runs a sales organization for an IT company in Calgary. “I called up Natelee and said my son-in-law, who is a prosthetist or orthotist, would like to come and if there’s … anything on the island he might be able to help with. … And that’s how we got connected with Danny.”
The H-Cow group visited Roatan in April 2014. Melwood brought supplies with him for making a temporary artificial limb, which Bentley described as “makeshift.” “It’s very challenging to make one without the proper facilities,” Bentley explained. “He (Melwood) came and he did sort of an examination and created that (the first prosthesis) on the fly.” Danny used it for more than a year.
After returning to Canada, with the benefit of first-hand knowledge of Danny’s needs and measurements, Melwood crafted a more customized limb for Danny. Bentley brought it down with him in a rolling carry-on bag when H-Cow returned to Roatan last month. Melwood couldn’t make the trip this time. So Bentley got to do the honors of fitting it to Danny’s leg, assisted by his daughter Laurel, a graphic design student at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. When they got stuck, they called Melwood on Bentley’s smart phone for tech support via live video feed. After an hour or so of tinkering and fine-tuning, Danny was up and walking on it. After a few minutes he had barely a trace of a limp.
“It’s going to be more comfortable,” Bentley said of the new limb.
“It’s a lot lighter,” Danny said through a smile. He said it was also more flexible.
“It worked out well,” said Bentley, summing up the whole episode. “We got to meet Danny.”
After the fitting at Roatan Hospital June 30, Danny took his new leg, together with associated supplies and spare parts, across the road with him to his sister’s house, where he now stays and operates a nearby computer repair business. He’s no longer a DJ.
“I’m done with partying,” Danny said. “It’s just a waste of time and strength.” He prefers to devote himself to something more profitable.