UPS DPT Student and Earthquake Survivor Returns to Haiti

My name is Rachel Prusynski, and less than one week after surviving the earthquake which hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, I was in a classroom at the University of Puget Sound starting the second semester of my DPT program.

I had visited Haiti during winter break to spend time with my best friend from college, Molly Hightower. Molly and I both graduated from the University of Portland in 2009 and Molly had decided to spend the year after graduation volunteering in Haiti with children and orphans with disabilities through Friends of the Orphans. During my visit, I spent 12 days with her in the physical therapy clinics, touring the hospital to nurture the abandoned and malnourished babies and spending time with more than four hundred children at the orphanage.

Then the earthquake struck. Our seven-story building toppled, taking the lives of two volunteers, including Molly. I was rescued and evacuated with just a broken arm and lacerations, but it felt as if I left a piece of myself in Haiti, and my world suddenly turned upside down.

My community, especially the professors and friends in the DPT program at UPS, helped in so many ways to ease my transition and to assuage my grief.

A year later, I now feel strong enough to return to Haiti.

This month, I will take a small group of friends and return to Haiti to work for Friends of the Orphans and participate in a memorial service for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. For seventeen days, we will work alongside PTs in the hospital, pediatric clinics and in the new prosthetics program. We will tour the city of Port-au-Prince for a firsthand view of the remaining damage caused by the earthquake. We will remember Molly and all the victims at a memorial service January 12, 2011. Finally, we will visit the site of the building that took the life of my amazing friend who had given up everything to serve the disadvantaged children of Haiti.

In preparation for my journey back, I have started an initiative called Heal, Help, Hope to raise funds and awareness of the issues that continue to face Haiti. I am grateful to PTWA for the opportunity to share my story with my physical therapy community and I hope to draw attention to my ongoing fund raising efforts for Friends of the Orphans. If you would like to learn more about this fantastic organization that is accomplishing, against all odds, amazing things in Haiti, please visit my fund raising page at:

To learn more about my return to Haiti and personal earthquake story, as well as to follow my work during my trip back this winter, I welcome everyone to follow my blog at

Rachel Prusynski
SPT University of Puget Sound