After making and fitting leg prosthetics for five Haitian amputees, Forest Sexton of Medford said his week of volunteer work in that earthquake-ravaged country changed lives — for him and the people he helped.

After making and fitting leg prosthetics for five Haitian amputees, Forest Sexton of Medford said his week of volunteer work in that earthquake-ravaged country changed lives — for him and the people he helped.

"What we did was only a spit in the ocean," said Sexton, of Spectrum Orthotics and Prosthetics in Medford, who returned from Haiti two weeks ago. "The loss of limbs there is catastrophic and life-ending. These people were facing a life in the gutter. Their amputations were done with a hacksaw and some (because of infections and lack of antibiotics) had four or five amputations."

At their own expense, Sexton and his business partner, Derrick Kleiner of Spectrum's office in Grants Pass, volunteered with Christian-based Mission of Hope. Neither of the men had been to Haiti before.

Operating out of a tent clinic, Sexton was assisted by his daughter, Madison, a 2010 graduate of St. Mary's School.

While fitting the devices, Sexton and his team trained locals in the making of prosthetics, a nonexistent business before the Jan. 12 quake, which killed 230,000, injured 300,000 and made a million people homeless.

Sexton's on-site clinic, he noted, was a quarter-mile from a graveyard for 170,000 people who died in the quake — and every person he met had "horrific stories" of multiple family members maimed and killed.

"It was overwhelming. We did 12-hour days," said Sexton. "The crush injuries, if they'd had good post-operative care and antibiotics, would not have been amputations. ... It's bad and it's going to get worse.

"The tremendous flow of resources (in the first months) has slowed dramatically, and when the next big storm hits, there'll be no place to hide," he added. "These people are living in tarps held up by four sticks. The sanitation is poor. There's one water well for every thousand people, and the water isn't good. They get one small box of food per family every two weeks."

Until now, the attitude of the Haitian culture has been that amputees were called "vegetables" and would be rejected by families and employers — and left to beg in the streets, using sticks for crutches or hopping around on one leg, said Sexton.

"That's changing now. When they get a prosthetic, it's transforming for them. It's something very special. They are smiling and so gracious and grateful for it," said Sexton, who took measurements for two more limbs he is making here and will send to Haiti. "I'm just thankful I had the skill to help."

Kleiner, who returned Sunday from Haiti, said the volunteer work was "very rewarding."

"In Haiti, you're lucky to get crutches. Usually it's sticks that hold you up."

The devices made by the local volunteers, fabricated to fit each patient, are made of thermoplastics, carbon composite, acrylic or titanium, Kleiner noted.

"With every leg you made, you realized there were half a dozen more that needed to be made," Kleiner said.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.