Paralyzed Haiti earthquake victim healing in Lowcountry

Rubble from an earthquake that struck Haiti in January. Credit: MGN
Rubble from an earthquake that struck Haiti in January. Credit: MGN
Credit: MGN
Credit: MGN
Workers dig through the rubble after an earthquake hit Haiti in January. Credit: MGN
Workers dig through the rubble after an earthquake hit Haiti in January. Credit: MGN

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Just as many people around the world were welcoming in 2010, an unwelcome earthquake rocked Haiti.

The natural disaster left thousands of people dead and injured. One woman's healing journey led her all the way from Haiti to Dorchester, SC.

On Jan. 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake unapologetically shook Haiti, destroying the hospital where 28-year-old Brunette Joseph was undergoing training to become a nurse.

"When I fell, I remember I said, 'Jesus, save me, please!' " Joseph said.

Trapped under mounds of cement, Joseph unsuccessfully tried to send text messages to her family from the cell phone fastened to her hospital uniform. Dehydrated and in darkness, she made another unsettling discovery.

"I tried to touch my feet," Joseph said. "I don't feel them."

The earthquake left Joseph paralyzed from the waist down. Unable to move, she cried out to the people digging into the rubble above searching for survivors.

"I say to them, 'I'm here,' " Joseph said.

Trapped for 28 hours, rescuers finally heard her cries for help.

"I believed that God saved my life," Joseph said. "That's God."

Barely alive, Joseph was flown to Broward County, Florida for emergency surgery. By June, doctors had done all they could, but told Joseph with the right physical therapy she might be able to walk again.

After being discharged from the hospital, Joseph stayed with extended family in Florida and held out hope she would get the needed treatment even if it was financially out of reach.

As Brunette waited, word of her struggle reached Mike and Lillian Markey of Dorchester through their church. In 2003, the husband and wife met Joseph while on a mission trip in Haiti. After brief consideration they decided to open their home to her.

"I told my wife, 'Honey, we gotta go to Florida and get Brunette,' " Mike Markey said.

With a few phone calls, the couple found free treatment for Joseph at Summerville's Grace Physical Therapy.

"I was kind of overprotective at first you know," Lillian Markey said. "She's very independent. She's very capable of taking care of herself. I used to put her in this chair and I would say, 'Don't you move until I get back.' "

"We raised seven kids," Mike Markey said. "I get onto her just like I do my kids, give her a hard time just like I did my kids. She's our daughter. She has more courage than any young lady her age that I've ever met, I believe."

The Markey family has claimed Joseph as one of their very own, taking her to physical therapy and on outings throughout the Lowcountry, such as the Yorktown on July 4.

"That's my mom and dad," Joseph said of the Markeys. "That's the way I call them. That's my family now."

With the right care, Joseph might be able to reclaim some of what the earthquake took from her.

"Probably not in the same sense that we would all wish for being able to walk upright and get around without assists or aids, but much more mobile and able to cover ground potentially without the wheelchair," said Dr. Otis Engelman, Joseph's physician in Summerville.

To make this kind of progress, the Markeys have been told Joseph needs a costly nuclear medicine treatment. Up until now, the couple, with help from the community and Church of God in Hanahan, has paid for all of her expenses, but this type of care is beyond their means.

"We're still praying for a miracle that more can be done for her here," Lillian Markey said.

While Joseph waits to further her treatment, Grace Physical Therapy has given her some leg braces that could eventually help her stand.

"God has a reason for everything he does," Joseph said.

Joseph hopes to return to her home country one day to become a minister.

For more information at to make donations to Haiti, contact the Helping Hands International Outreach Ministry at 843-709-1218.

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