Romel Joseph lay buried in the ruins of his own school for 18 hours when the earthquake struck Haiti, keeping his spirits up by running over in his mind every note he'd ever played in his career as a world-class violinist. When he was airlifted to Jackson Memorial with severe fractures in his playing hand and both legs crushed, Joseph feared he might never play again.
Today, those notes that sustained him in the darkness have become reality. Romel Joseph is playing his violin again, and he's set to leave hospital today to begin the long and hard task of rebuilding his school, and his life, in Haiti.
"I thought my time was up, then God said, 'No, you have things to do,'" he said.
One of the first tasks is to continue painful daily rehab sessions with physical therapists, where he's learning to walk on legs full of pins, and working to play his violin as best as he can with his fingers still healing.
"All the patients get real quiet," said his physical therapist Nikki Belchic. "They listen. The whole gym gets quiet. It's a nice treat every day at the end of the session."
Joseph's fingers have been helped by a gift from a famous admirer. After seeing Romel mention on CNN that he thought having a keyboard to play would help him work his hands, Stevie Wonder sent his own keyboard to Miami as a gift.
"What better way to express God's love," Wonder asked, "than to give something that is special to you to someone else in need?"
For all his progress, which his doctor, Sebastian Tobin, terms "excellent," Romel still faces a daunting immediate future when he returns to Port-au-Prince at the end of the month.
He is set on reopening his New Victorian School, albeit in temporary, tarped classrooms, by the traditional first day of school April 12.
He still faces months of physical rehab.
And he's determined to find the remains of his newlywed wife, who was pregnant with the couple's first child, a boy, when she perished two floors below him at the school.
"He wants nobody to touch the school until he gets there,'' said his daughter Victoria, a music major at the University of Miami and a member of the Miami Symphony Orchestra.
Joseph estimates it will take 3 years to rebuild the school, something he already did once after it was destroyed in an electrical fire in 2000. To set up temporary quarters and operate it through the next few months will take $35,000, of which half has already been raised -- thanks, in part, to a special, two-night MISO performance back in February and contributions from orchestras and music lovers around the country.
No doubt the work, and the music, will keep him going again.
"All of my fears are starting to go down,'' he said. "I'm so thankful."