“The hand, which is used with a glove, is a more cosmetic terminal device. We thought that with his appearances in church, saying mass, the hand would be more cosmetic and less distracting.” Lawall remembers Alynx as a healthy, athletic young man, “…super appreciative of everything that was being done for him.
“When we put the prosthesis on him, and he would work the device and see it respond; even with the language barrier, that smile that he gave us with it—that was worth a thousand words!” Because his was a short above-the-elbow amputation, Benardin’s arm required a mechanical elbow and a mechanical hand, which makes the design challenging, Lawall notes.
“Most important was the need to choose components that would be maintenance-free,” he points out. “We could have given him a myoelectric elbow, but then if something would break down, where would he get repairs done to it? It had to be something that required limited maintenance for the prosthesis; we wanted to give him something that was reliable and durable, that was better for everyday use.”
After Benardin returned home, continued travel restrictions allowed no opportunity for followup, says Lawall.
“I had no idea how he did after his fitting! There was no contact because the world turned upside down during the pandemic! It wasn’t till a year later that the airports were open, and Alynx was able to return for a couple of days in July of 2021, to pick up his hand and his cosmetic glove.”
At that time Lawall experts were able to make adjustments to his prosthetic arm and to confirm that the hand fit perfectly and Alynx was working well with it.
During his brief visit, despite limitations imposed by COVID restrictions, Benardin was able to do some sightseeing around the Philadelphia and Bucks County area—and also to become one of the rare few people in Haiti to have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine!
During both his visits, Benardin gratefully enjoyed the home and hospitality provided by Monsignor Joseph Gentili, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Buckingham, Pennsylvania—a friend of Kardish and of the Haitian mission effort since 1997.
No doubt at a better time, Benardin may be able to return to the United States for a longer visit, to broaden his perspective and deepen the understanding and insights he can share with his parishioners in Fort-Liberté—where life is very different, and has evolved from a storied national history predating the Spanish settlement of the area in the 1490s.
The population of Fort-Liberté was estimated in 2015 at 34,434. The most common religious affiliations are Roman Catholic and Haitian Vodou.
In such a world, Benardin’s new arm is already visibly making a difference as he re-embraces his favorite sports, activities and duties, as mentor and leader within his parish.
Ripples in a Pond…
One might imagine that the chain of events that led to Benardin receiving his new arm began as long ago as 1983, with Kardish’s early career in the pharmaceutical business, and his later decision to accompany Mennonite workers at his Doylestown Lumber Company on their medical mission work in Haiti, serving as pharmacist.
“Once I learned to arrange and execute such missions,” Kardish explains, “I started the program within my church, Our Lady of Carmel in Doylestown. Until COVID intervened, I had gone to Haiti probably twice a year since 1997. Then when I got into the high school business, I started taking girls from Villa on these missions twice a year.
“It’s really rewarding to return to the same community, where you get to know the people and really see progress,” he observes.
Since Haiti has no public school system to speak of, most education is provided by religious schools, which, alongside the church itself, form a foundation function for the community, he explains. Despite what one might expect to be desperation in a country plagued by shortages, the absence of reliable expectations is somehow liberating, Kardish reflects. “When you get to Haiti, you just need to be flexible; don’t have any expectations!” he laughs. “I’ve had trips go incredibly smoothly and I’ve gone on trips that took an extra 2 ½ days to enable us to start working, so you just have to sort of ‘go with it.’
“It’s interesting—there are no clocks in Haiti! Things just happen; even mass. When you hear the music, it’s time to start.”
This is the community which produced a student like Alynx Benardin, dedicated to serving his community’s physical and spiritual needs through the priesthood he’ll attain soon after this story is published. “I’m not sure that, without the Lawalls’ help, that that would have occurred,” Kardish muses. Alynx’s family, of course, is very proud. How many other lives might he also be influencing, and perhaps saving in years to come, through his choice? “Thousands,” Kardish believes. “The church in Haiti is everything in these communities. The priest serves as the electoral official, the policeman, judge, bank, the schoolteacher, the school administrator. In these communities, the church is really the foundation of the entire community.
Armed to Serve
What lies ahead for Benardin and his community and country, certainly only God knows; but “he’s functioning, he’s going to be a priest, he’s got a hand now, and he’s shared some amazing pictures,” Kardish notes. “The Lawalls really helped him to be able to do all the things he needs to do as a priest. And yes, I have pictures of him driving again! —on the worst roads in the world—where it takes 24 hours to go 90 miles. Unbelievable!”
“I express my appreciation to Dave and all the Lawall family,” he concludes. “They changed a life, and probably by extension, changed a lot of people’s lives.”