PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Georges Exantus thought he’d never dance again. He was lucky just to be alive.
The earthquake three years ago in Haiti’s capital flattened the apartment where he was living and he spent three days trapped under jagged rubble. After friends dug him out, doctors amputated his right leg just below the knee.
Israeli doctors and physical therapists who came to Haiti after the quake sent him to Israel for surgery and rehabilitation.
Three years later, the 31-year-old professional dancer is back on the floor, spinning away as he does the salsa, cha-cha and samba. A prosthetic leg doesn’t hold him back.
Exantus says he’s the same person he was before the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake struck southern Haiti.
But it’s clear the life of the young man nicknamed “The Gladiator” has been changed by the disaster that killed tens of thousands of people and forced an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 survivors to undergo amputations because of gangrene-related infections.
Exantus walks with a slight limp. He can’t dance as fast as he used to or balance as well or do some of his old moves, such as flipping his partner over his shoulder.
Exantus has also learned to ignore the long stares and quiet whispers, products of a longstanding stigma in Haiti for people with disabilities. Before the quake, few resources existed to accommodate Haiti’s disabled, and many regard people with disabilities as misfits.
“I’m not focused on what people say about me or how society sees me,” says Exantus, who married his girlfriend in July on a dance floor.
If some see him as something of an outcast, his friends find inspiration: He’s not one for self-pity; he was determined to dance again, and did. He’s part of a Latin dance company and gives classes.
“Some victims of Jan. 12 stay in the same place and they can’t do anything,” says dance partner and friend Modeline Gene Arhan, 26. “Georges has a goal. He’s always thinking of where he’s going.”
He’s already made one dream come true.
“As long as I’m living,” Exantus says, “I’m going to dance.”