Friday, June 25, 2010

A debt of gratitude

My 'brother'. That is the name I have been given by the translators at Hopital Adventiste. They give of themselves more than anyone. Here are some of their amazing stories.

Albert came to Adventiste in January. He is stationed mainly in the operating room and helps transport patients and provide supplies for the surgeons as they are needed. He greets you with a warm smile and a willingness to go the extra mile to accomodate the medical staff and our team. The circumstances to which he arrived at Adventiste are much like several Haitians before the earthquake.

As a professor of mathematics he was teaching class at the school where he worked. Although, he had not initially realized what had happened, he stood in class and began to feel dizzy, falling on the floor from the violent shaking. After realizing what was happening, he began to direct the students to make their way out of the school while he followed, barely escaping before the entire school collapsed to the ground. Later that day he made his way home, only to find that it also had been destroyed. Fortunately, his life was spared but his way of life was not.

Tony is also an OR translator. Along with Albert, he is a warm and outstanding individual who is always there for you. His vibrant personality captures the beauty and flamboyant nature of the Haitian people. Before January, he was finishing his engineering degree at the university in Port Au Prince. With just a few months to go, he was well on his way to establishing his career and earning the living he hoped to achieve to support his family. As he sat in class the earth began to shake. The walls buckled as dust and debris fell on the floor. Tony raced to the closest exit while the walls crumbled around him, destroying the classrooms and pinning those who did not escape in time. He managed to escape the building and get on a tap tap to make his way home to safety. He describes the ride like a rollercoaster, weaving and swaying across the road from the force of the vibration. Although he made it back home, his concrete apartment did not withstand the force of the powerful earthquake. In less than a minute he was homeless and all records of his achievements buried in the rubble.

Jeanty is a man of so many talents. In addition to his ability to speak almost perfect English, he is also a skilled musician and singer. At the university prior to the earthquake he was a student of economics, finishing his last year to earn a degree and become an accountant. Like Tony, they were both in class at the time of the earthquake. Narrowly escaping the destruction and collapsing floors, Jeanty stood outside in a daze and tried to make sense of what had just happened. His shock turned to sadness when he realized his home had collapsed and all of his belongings were destroyed. He now finds himself at Adventiste, sleeping each night in a small tent with a mattress, a few items of clothing and a small box containing what's left of what he had earned before January. As he awakes every morning at 6am, he closes the zipper to the entrance of his tent, which he calls his house, and ventures out into the hospital to provide beyond himself for the benefit of others in need.

Max is a man in his late forties. Spending four years in the US he earned a master's degree in education from Brooklyn University. He returned to Haiti shortly after to start his career and build the life he had dreamed of earning. In a short time he had established himself as an educator and school principal responsible for 25 students. He had the life. He was not a rich man, but he could provide for his four children and his wife. He had a business, and a house. A house that he built with his own hands over a period of three years. It was three floors high.

In less than two minutes, it was all destroyed. The 7.0 earthquake shook his school and his house so violently that they both completely collapsed, killing his wife and two of his children. In ten years Max had become the man he had dreamed of becoming and just two minutes is all it took to take that away from him. He tells his story with sadness. But he says there is a plan for him, only God knows. With his identity stripped from him, it is all that he has left.

Although they are not paid, the volunteer translators show up everyday willing to provide a service to the best of their abilities. It is only those that understand this enormous act of selflessness, that can understand the struggle that will continue if the situation in Haiti does not change.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Not your ordinary desk job

I spent yesterday afternoon in the Orthopedic clinic with Julie. I sat with her translator, Max while she sent a young girl home with Ibuprofen for some minor pain, another one came in right after as Julie called the next one through to evaluate. Looking around the room I noticed the dark green paint on the walls, heavily contrasted by the bright fluorescent xray light positioned directly above the wooden chair and several photocopied messages posted next to it. A bathroom just to the left had a tiled shower with a dirty curtain, half drawn. The toilet and sink on the other side with a faucet steadily dripping water. Shelves were set up to accommodate various donated braces, plastic casts and crutches which were either organized together or strewn about when someone had searched for a certain size. Julie sat in an old folding chair at a large desk, reminiscent of an early 70's office. It was heavy and made of metal. Stacks of documents, various medicines and a old fan sat atop the scraped metal surface while Julie wrote into the patient chart, which contained a few photocopied documents inside a manila envelope.

The next patient was called in. Her complaint was that she had pain, a week after she had fallen on her left leg. There are no real visible signs of injury besides some minor swelling and very small bruises. So Julie asked a few standard questions about her symptoms, knowing that she would have to eventually see an orthopedist. Unfortunately, right now since Dr. Scott Nelson returned to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, there are no orthopedic surgeons working at the hospital. And it still remains unclear if any will arrive in time to evaluate this woman's xray. Julie decides to order one anyway, and then gave her a knee brace and crutches. The young woman reluctantly agreed after some convincing that it would be the best thing to promote less damage to the leg. We both adjusted the crutches to her approximate height and handed them to her. I began to think about how difficult it would be to be transporting oneself through the rubble strewn streets and mangle sidewalks of Port Au Prince on a pair of crutches. She is then sent on her way back home and asked to return in another week to see if a new orthopedic surgeon has arrived.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Positive results from an O negative!

Yesterday morning marked the 7th procedure at Hospital Adventiste for a young girl named Miranda. Her right leg had been fractured in the earthquake and since that time, she has been here for nearly six months. She is a model of bravery.

Unfortunately during the course of her long stay, several specialists with good intentions all had a different plan of recovery for this young girl, resulting in a difficult and nearly impossible healing process.

Her three and a half hour procedure involved a little 'craftwork' by our scrub techs. A clever series of contraptions were constructed out of a cement like substance which was rolled into little beads and inserted onto metal wires. After setting up they were placed inside the exposed bone. After raising a large flap and grafting over the large wound, we all breathed a sigh of relief in hopes that this would be a successful beginning of her recovery.

However, hopes were diminished upon the realization that she needed an emergency blood transfusion. Cassie had tested her hemoglobin level, which was hovering at about 3 (meaning about 1/3 of value of blood was left in her). Her mother was the first candidate but she was unwilling to donate. So, we started making some phone calls. We were denied all across the board. Another hospital had a supply available but were unwilling to give it up for this case. Even the American Red Cross denied her the blood needed to save her life, saying in order to get blood you have to give it back.

Well it happens to be that Cassie has type O negative blood meaning she can be a universal donor. Even after twelve hours working in the operating room, fatigued, hungry and in need of a good nights sleep, Cassie stepped up to offer her own blood to save Miranda. She had been through so much already, we were not about to let a few stingy 'humanitarian' organizations prevent what would be a relatively simple procedure. We all shuffled up to the voluteer room to witness as she allowed Brooke, a volunteer from Maine administer a large, scary looking needle into her arm and drain nearly a pint of blood.

Her last ditch effort was all that was needed. The new blood was administered to Miranda, who by now was wailing in extreme pain from her long and difficult surgery that morning. Within fifteen minutes, she received the new blood with no side effects and slept throughout the night.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Our return to Hospital Adventiste

The team gets ready to check in with 25 suitcases of supplies!
Tents still line the streets of Port Au Prince
The team looks on at the devastation as our van heads to the hospital
Little Jaunito is overwhelmed with joy as he and Shelby exchange hugs!
Juanito displays his fantastic grin

Nine hours of flying sure takes a toll. Whether it's the dry air, the confined space with uncomfortable seats and the feeling like you're in a giant can of diet coke outfitted with wings. The whole concept of flying still baffles my mind. I'm still the one who will see a jet landing or taking off at the airport and instantly revert to my childlike sense of wonder and amazement that something that heavy can propel its way through the air. Even more wondrous is that in less than half a day, one can escape the comfort of running water, electricity, street lights, and enter a poverty stricken disaster zone.

Saturday morning we arrived to Port Au Prince. All of us eager to begin the work we did soon before in May. Seeing the tent speckled landscape from the air was not a surprise. It was a temporary solution for displaced Haitians and is now a permanent fixture. As is the half destroyed buildings teetering on collapse. People congregate below, inside or on top of these Romanesque ruins oblivious of the impeding danger. One hard rain could mean another trauma victim.

In addition to our six team members, this time we managed to fill 25 suitcases full of supplies. They were precariously arranged atop the van provided for our transport which for some reason I didn't second guess, maybe a combination of dehydration and lack of sleep. Our drivers motion for us all to pile into the van and we jump inside. I glanced through the rearview from the front passenger side to see that the luggage was piled three cases high as we sped through the city over potholes and around corners. Hmm, that doesn't look like it's tied down. Then... slam! We hit what technically is considered a pothole but looked a little more like an asteroid collision. Sure enough, I watched to see one of the suitcases go tumbling from atop the van and disappearing from view. I immediately yell to our driver, STOP, a suitcase fell, a suitcase fell!! Realizing afterwards that he probably only understood the word stop. Several seconds later we stop and Allen runs down the street with the driver in the small chance the suitcase is still there. Whew... they got it. This was a relief but it didn't quell the fear that several more went tumbling before that. Should we count our bags?" "Nope," everybody reluctantly agrees. So we continue.

When we arrive to the hospital, a sense of relief washes over. Although the drive and the sights of the city are becoming familiar, the remnants of disaster remain disconcerting. The half destroyed buildings and piles of rubble sit like a snapshot of the earthquake. They poke at your senses and create an uneasiness that you never really get used to.

As we're unloading the van, I hear screams behind me. "Shelby!" I turn around to see that our little friend Juanito and his two brothers are running towards Shelby, all with a huge teeth grin from cheek to cheek! They nearly tackle her over. "You came back!" they exclaim. I found out later that during the first trip she asked if they are related, they said "each of us lost our parents in the earthquake, so we are family now. We look out for each other." We finish unloading and find that everything made it. So begins the work.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

General Surgeons needed ASAP!

So the moment of our return visit is fast approaching and the news on the hospital grounds is not encouraging. We found out today that Dr. Gabriel will be the only surgeon on the premises when we return to Hospital Adventiste next week.

I am putting the word out to recruit any and all GENERAL SURGEONS or surgery residents who would be able to volunteer next week (June 18-25), even if it is only for a couple of days. Since we will be there already, everything will be set up and ready to go. Please let me know of anyone interested, or contact Alex Sokolov from Loma Linda University.

Please go to to read the latest news and information regarding Hospital Adventiste and pass it on to those who would be able to volunteer.

We cannot lose any momentum around the rebuilding effort in Haiti. Despite the earthquake being several months behind, HAITI STILL NEEDS OUR HELP, now more than ever before.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Song for Haiti

Every so often we meet individuals who define compassion. They're selflessness and dedication to the care of others makes our usual worries of the day seem petty. And we cannot help but be inspired. One such person is our translator at Hopital Adventiste named Bermann Alexis. His life story is extraordinary. Like many Haitians at just 33 years old, he has experienced so much adversity, including losing both his parents to illness while still in his twenties. Despite all he's been through he has dedicated his life to helping others and to his passion of performing Christian music to patients. And his dream is to bring his talent to the US

During my visit I had an opportunity to record Bermann performing a couple of his songs which you can watch below. His hope is that by sharing this video, it will inspire someone to provide him the opportunity to play for patients here in the US.

Haitian Farmers Pledge to Burn Monsanto’s Seeds

Jean-Yves Urfie is a member of the Holy Spirit Order and former chemistry teacher at Coll├Ęge Saint Martial, Port-au-Prince. He writes in a recent article that Monsanto is s offering the country's farmers a deadly gift of 475 tonnes of genetically-modified (GM) seeds to the impoverished and earthquake-devastated nation.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Beverly Bell reported that Haitian peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called Monsanto’s “gift” of seeds “a new earthquake” and has committed to burning them.

Bell writes:

“In an open letter sent of May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the Executive Director of MPP and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds..., and on what is left our environment in Haiti."

Haitian social movements have been vocal in their opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks. They have expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Read more about how the company Monsanto is a major threat to small farmers and sustainable agriculture at

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Haiti's Steps To Recovery

This story was recently posted on Amputation has become one of the defining injuries of January's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. Thousands were left without limbs after being caught in collapsed buildings. The task now facing NGOs and charities, such as Handicap International, is to fit prosthetics and rehabilitate victims. In this clip, there is also a heart warming story about a young girl rescued from a quake collapsed building, separated from her mother, exported to another country as an orphan, then ultimately reunited with her family.