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Hospital releases blind Haitian violinist

By Jennifer Rizzo, CNN
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Blind violinist recovering
  • Blind violinist Romel Joseph released from hospital
  • He suffered a fractured hand and crushed legs in Haiti's January earthquake
  • Stevie Wonder donated keyboard to help him practice while wearing cast
  • Joseph plans to return to Haiti to start rebuilding music school

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Romel Joseph calls it his second life.

"When I came here, I said I was 99.9 percent dead, and I am leaving here 85 percent alive," he said.

The blind violinist who was trapped for 18 hours after Haiti's earthquake in January was released from a Miami, Florida, hospital over the weekend after what doctors say is an amazing recovery.

The powerful January 12 quake leveled his five-story music school in Port-au-Prince, and he was pinned beneath the debris.

His friends were able to remove him from the rubble of the New Victorian School, and he was airlifted out of Port-au-Prince by the American Embassy to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

I thought my time was up.
---- Romel Joseph

Joseph suffered severe injuries, including a fractured hand and two crushed legs.

To get through the painful ordeal, Joseph prayed and let his mind drift to thoughts of every concerto he had ever played.

"I didn't think I would be alive ... I thought my time was up," Joseph said. "But my time is not up yet, so God will provide and show me how to fulfill my dream."

Joseph plans to return to Haiti at the end of the month to start rebuilding the New Victorian School, where he is the director.

He hopes to have a makeshift structure up within two weeks so children can begin attending the dual purpose music and academic school by mid-April.

Video: Pledging to play again
Video: Symphony in the rubble
  • Haiti
  • Port-au-Prince
  • Earthquakes

The temporary structure is estimated to cost $35,000. It will take another two to three years to build a permanent school, one that Joseph said will be earthquake-proof.

During Joseph's last physical therapy session, the Juilliard-trained violinist played classical numbers and hymns as part of his treatment.

To the delight of patients around him, Joseph stuck chord after chord on the violin stretching and strengthening his hand that was badly fractured.

"I couldn't put my fingers on the strings at first and gradually I was able to play little one or two notes and now I can play, not great but it's a blessing," Joseph said modestly.

Doctors had initially feared that he might never play violin again.

The violin wasn't the only instrument helping Joseph repair his shattered hand during the 18 hours of physical therapy he received each week.

A keyboard donated by musician Steve Wonder has helped Joseph regain the strength in his fingers.

Wonder, who is also blind, had heard Joseph's story on CNN and said he was moved to act.

"What better way to express God's love than to give something that is special to you to someone else who is in need," Wonder said. "So that's why I did what I did."

Joseph hopes to return playing professionally by October, when he would like to have a debut concert with Wonder.

"I would like to play with him and thank him in person for helping in my recovery."