Chicago area clinic helping disabled refugees

The clinic was the first of its kind, serving refugees with physical disabilities who recently arrived in the United States. However, the biggest challenge is not medical care; it's communication.

"One of the problems is, I never know what language is coming through the door," said Dr. Michelle Gittler, the rehabilitation physician for immigrants and refugees with disabilities. "We see individuals who've had amputations, people who've been in war zones and had amputations.

"We've seen individuals with developmental disabilities. They've never had access to things we take for granted, like early intervention programs. I've seen people with polio. I've see people who had had fractures that have not healed. So, you name a disability," she said.

The clinic's refugees are from Somalia, Rwanda, Burma, also known as Myanmar, and a growing number from Arabic-speaking countries.

For many individuals, having a disability is a 'ticket' to America.

"First of all, remember that a number of people with disabilities are allowed to leave their countries because they are not valued there," said Dr. Gittler.

Twice a month at Sinai's Touhy Health Center, specialists see the patients.

"As a political refugee, which all of these people are, you actually qualify for public aid for the first eight months. A lot of other doctors say it's for free, but they come because they need to be seen. So, my responsibility is to access the extent of their disability, try to discuss with them adaptive equipment and assistive devices therapy, and maybe, other education available to them here," Gittler said.

Many of the refugees are also sponsored by various organizations. An Iraqi woman named Fidan, for example, and her sister, Khollod, got help from Catholic Charities.

Khollod just arrived to America four months ago from Iraq but has been disabled since she was a child.

"My country [was] not safe and [did not] provide everything from water to electric. I came here to help my sister [have] an easy life," Fidan said.

Huda Hassan's 5-year-old daughter was injured when she was almost three months old.

"There was some explosion [that] happened. It was during the war of Iraq and [there were] some explosions happening around the home. At that moment, she was scared. After that…she got seizures," said Hassan. "After six months and they went to see doctor, then they gave her medicine for the seizures, and the medicine was very strong for her."

It took the Hassans several years to get to the United States.

"I am going for physical therapy and for occupational therapy in a week once," Hassan said.

"If you are fleeing a country with a disabled family member and you go to a camp where there aren't even services for people who are able-bodied, let alone some who's disabled, it's overwhelming," said Gittler.

Medical staff members also provide evaluations for prosthetics, wheelchairs and assistive devices, as well as therapy.

For more information:

Sinai Medical Group Touhy

2901 W. Touhy