Lucianie Dorluis, injured during the January 12 earthquake, sits on her bed after her hair was fixed by hairdresser Claudia Martinez. Image Credit: AP

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic : With bright elastic bands and simple care, Claudia Martinez is smoothing the edges of suffering for some of Haiti's quake victims.

The 31-year-old Dominican tends to dozens of hospital patients who have made it across the border to her country, tenderly combing and braiding their hair for free.

Carrying a basket filled with coloured elastic bands, a pot of petroleum jelly and a comb, Martinez comes every day to Santo Domingo's Dario Contreras hospital where injured Haitians with broken bones and shattered lives began arriving soon after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake devastated their homeland.

Her task may seem trivial, but she believes restoring a bit of beauty and humanity to people who have lost everything and survived deplorable conditions is important.

Little help

Martinez says she wants to make people feel "clean and a little bit better".

More than 150 Haitians fill the hospital's trauma unit, many of them amputees or with spinal injuries, casts or bandages. Doctors work extra hours to tend the wounded. Extra beds are in the hallways.

The moans and wails of the patients pierce the air. Many have lost their families and suffer alone.

"It's good that they get taken care of, even if it is only like this," the slender hairdresser said.

"I like it when she comes," 13-year-old Julienne Billiard said shyly, her hair woven and held together by coloured elastic bands — a sure sign that Martinez had passed by recently.

The girl read a book of stories in French. She showed how a metal bar pierced her leg, put there by doctors to help the bone heal so she can walk again.

Billiard doesn't remember arriving at the hospital but says she feels lucky because her mother is with her. Martinez began combing and braiding hair in hospitals in 1992 after her cousin had an accident. "She said it made her feel so much better. After that, I kept coming."