I spent the final week of January at my home away from home; Port-au-Prince, Haiti. If you would have asked me a year ago where I most enjoy spending my free time, the last place I would suggest would have been post-earthquake Haiti. Yet after each subsequent trip to Haiti I find it more difficult to leave and often feel a sense of loss for my Haitian friends I leave behind. Haiti and its beautiful people have a way of changing ones outlook on life. While it’s true that Haiti has needs beyond needs, the people of Haiti are blessed with a kind, loving and caring spirit unlike any group of people I have come across. I often say I get more out my trips to Haiti than I provide to those whom I serve, and this trip was no exception. I left for Haiti with a heavy heart, traveling for the first time without my amazing wife, Summer, and without Dr. Terry and Jeannie Dietrich, as Terry (my father in law) recovers from a back injury. But together with eight new friends, I had another incredible to trip to Haiti as I helped serve those in need.
Our trip consisted of nine members; I was joined by Bill and Sue Shawler (an ER physician and a recovery room nurse from Portland), Randy and Carrie Goethke (an anesthesiologist and a family practice physician from Appleton), Chris Jobe (an orthopedist from Loma Linda), Kenny Jahng (a third year orthopedic resident from Loma Linda) and Maria and Lucia (an anesthesiologist and a nurse from the Dominican Republic). In many ways our time there was like two trips in one with our time split between working in the hospital and visiting several orphanages around the city.
After a jolting awakening each morning around 6am by a cold shower, our team had a quick worship service and then it was on to the clinic. Dr.’s Jobe, Shawler and Jahng ran the orthopedic clinic with Dr. Francel Alexis. Dr. Alexis graduated in 2004 from the Medical School of Haiti State University and divides his time between very busy clinics and the OR. He now serves in the position of Director of Orthopedics, which Terry had served as last year. We had general orthopedic clinics Monday and Friday and a clubfoot clinic Wednesday.
We had a variety of cases in the OR during our week. One of our first cases was a teenage boy who had an elbow dislocation around Christmas. Unfortunately we missed in the translation that it was Christmas of last year, 2010, which made the case much more difficult. We planned for a three hour case and spent closer to seven on it. Due to the long duration during which the elbow remained dislocated and not used, the ligaments and nerves were injured, and a large amount of scar tissue and calcification had formed around the joint. Hours were spent trying every trick in the book until we finally had to put a pin in to fuse the elbow. The next morning the patient was doing well with limited pain and bleeding, so he was discharged home and will come back for a checkup.
Another surgeon (Dr. Bull Durham) transferred a patient from another hospital to ours to use the equipment we have to fix her hip fracture. Randy and I provided the anesthesia; I did my third spinal block, three for three so far this trip. The case went well. The head of the bone was completely broken off and floating free. To fix this we applied traction to her leg to realign the fracture, then three pins were placed to hold everything in place. Then three canulated screws (screws with hollow centers) were fed over the pins and screwed into place. Then the pins are removed and the screws hold everything together. After a few months the bone will heal and the girl will be good as new.
We did several other cases during the week ranging from children as young as four years old to a hip replacement on a 70 year old woman. Thanks to many generous donors, every person who comes to Haiti Adventist Hospital, young or old, wealthy or poor, obtains the same high quality care. We also performed a few knee arthroscopies and various other surgeries. Sue and I really enjoyed recovering patients in the PACU and working side by side with the Haitian nurses. Bill and Carrie also stayed busy down in the pediatric clinic. Carrie’s French came in very handy when translators where not available. It was a great week and while the OR was not as busy as some prior trips, I feel we made an impactful difference in the lives of many people.
After our work was done in the hospital, many members of our team ventured out into the city to visit the local orphanages. With each trip to Haiti I find myself spending more time with these amazing children. Thanks to many of my friends and family, I was able to bring enough donated clothes to give over 140 children new outfits. Many children were wearing the same shirts from my other visits in March and July. Carrie and Sue also brought clothes, shoes, toys and toothbrushes for the children. We visited four orphanages over the week and saw so many amazing children. We also made time to go to local markets and buy each orphanage enough bulk food to last 4-6 weeks.
Our first trip included visits to two orphanages: Mr. Wilson’s and Mary Lou’s. Mr. Wilson has 25 children and they were out of food, so along the way we picked up enough bulk food for both orphanages and all the kids to last them for a month. Rice, pasta, cooking oil, spices and beans were on the menu. We toured their place and were surprised to see where they slept. They all had a bunk to sleep on but no mattresses. Instead they each had 1 or 2 layers of cardboard between them and the metal frame of the bed. That’s it. And yet they were the happiest kids I have ever met. I arranged to buy them each a mattress so hopefully by Monday they will each enjoy the “luxury” of sleeping on a mattress. We then spent a few hours playing with the kids and handing out the clothes, toys, shoes, toothbrushes, and the “Gerke Nutrition packs” we brought down for them. I gave out over 100 nutrition packs this week, I can only imagine how many of those were the only meal of the day for some of those kids.
Next we went to Mary Lou’s. She has 15 kids but her house is only 7 feet by 20 feet in size. All 15 kids, ranging from 4 years old to 11, had to squeeze and share only three twin mattresses. And they had no beds so they just put the mattresses right on the floor; dirt, bugs, rats and all. Dr. Bill Shawler and his wife Sue are arranging to buy them a few bunk beds to sleep on, and hopefully we can get them some clean, new mattresses as well.
Some of the bulk food we purchased earlier was brought over for them. Only in Haiti have I seen a child cry over receiving rice as a gift. What life must be like that food is so sparse that a 50 pound bag of rice brings an 11 year-old to tears.
The other orphanages all had more happy children. One of the orphanages had done some construction to build one additional building, however about half of their spaces are covered with tarp roofs, many of which have large holes in them. I am going to try and arrange to have metal roof built over some of them to keep them dry. The final orphanage had ten children, all of which were all very sweet but very shy. They had a nice home with a small flat area to run and play. This was the first of all four orphanages to have somewhere for the children to get exercise and be near their home. There are four boys and six girls. The boys shared three beds and the six girls shared two beds. The boys did not have mattresses, only a single layer of carpet for padding. The girls only had cardboard to sleep on. I also found out that every child under 12 gets a free education in Haiti, however they must have their own uniform. The orphanage only had five uniforms so only half the kids went to school. The uniforms ended up only costing $10 each so we bought each child a new one and now all 10 children can get an education. $10 will allow a child to get years of otherwise free education in Haiti, not a bad return on that investment.
At each orphanage I asked how much it costs to provide for each child. On average it only costs about $1 per child, per day. For $100 a month you could clothe, feed, provide shelter and an education for 3 needy children and have some money left over.
We had a wonderful trip to Haiti and I was blessed in so many ways. You too can bless the needy by donating to the Haiti Indigent Patient Fund. By donating $50 you will receive a free copy of our book, “Haiti: Together We Move” and the money you donate will go on to provide life changing medical care to a needy Haitian.
If you feel led, please visit www.haititogetherwemove.com and make a donation.
Together we can move Haiti forward.
God bless the Haitians.
Tim Gerke, Portland, Oregon