You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2010.

Friends for Health in Haiti and Dr. Wolf are featured in an article in The Times of Trenton.  Read it here.

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Our tent clinic is presently set up in the yard next to Cherlie’s house in Port-au-Prince and 12-15 Relief International team members are using the house as a base camp.   It’s been a challenge for us, to say the least, since it’s not a house we’ve ever lived in fulltime, and isn’t set up exactly to American standards.  But the positive attitude and flexibility of our fellow volunteers and the Relief International staff has been incredible.  We’re all here to help the sick and injured and that we’re doing in record numbers. In the process we’re becoming a cohesive team.  We’ve seen over 700 patients in the past five days plus an additional 114 patients in a mobile clinic in a nearby area on Sunday. We’re planning to do several more mobile clinics in areas where there are large numbers of displaced persons- most of them living out in the open with sheets as their shelter.  The medical needs of these people are tremendous.  We’re seeing many neglected wounds and fractures, infected wounds and consequences of initially inadequate care.  One example of this was a small boy with a gaping laceration across his forehead.  It hadn’t been sutured and was going to leave an unsightly scar on his face.  Of even more concern, though, are those who have suffered psychological trauma.  Many patients complain of chronic headaches, palpitations, and feelings of anxiety, made even worse by the frequent aftershocks we’ve experienced in the past week.  Thousands of people previously living in Port-au-Prince, but with roots and family in the Jeremie area have returned there to live.  We expect that this will significantly increase the patient load in our own clinic in Gatineau.  Since Relief International is interested in having a long term presence in Haiti, we’re hoping to continue the collaborative relationship that’s been started in the past week. We’re excited about the possibility of having an even greater impact in the future on the people we love and serve.  We invite you to join us as we move forward.

The white tents were set up quickly and supplies placed in each one.  Chairs and tables were strategically arranged for patient consultations. Local students were hired as translators and security guards were placed at the front gate.  By 11 a.m. Wednesday morning our clinic was up and running. Not one of us knew what to expect. Eight days after the earthquake, we wondered what the injuries would be like.  Would people have fractures that hadn’t been splinted? Would most of the wounds be infected?  What about the children -would they have pneumonia from sleeping outside with no shelter and little covering?

We found out a few hours later that the answer was yes, yes and yes.  We saw 68 patients that first half day- many of them with such serious injuries that we had to transfer them to nearby hospitals. And each one quietly told his or her story of where they were when the earth trembled. One young mother was lying in bed with her newborn daughter.  She quickly ran outside when the house began to shake and handed the baby to a neighbor.  When she turned around, the house had turned to rubble, her other two children trapped inside, their bodies not recovered to this day.  Despite speaking without a tear in her eye, the grief she carried was evident.  A young man and his toddler daughter were walking on a street near their home when the earth shifted.  They were only slightly injured, but his wife wasn’t as fortunate.  She had been in their house and was crushed as it collapsed around her.  His only words were, “I am so thankful I still have my daughter.”

In the midst of the grief, there are stories of miracles, like the young woman and her son who were pulled from the ruins of their house two days after the quake.  I asked her how the rescuers found them and she said, “It was God who found us”.

Filmmaker Chip Duncan is in Haiti with the same group that Katie Wolf and Cherlie Severe are working with (Relief International). He’s posted a few pictures on Facebook.  You can view them here. You don’t need to be a Facebook user to view the photos (but if you are a Facebook user, search for Friends for Health in Haiti and become a fan)!

If ever I was  proud to be an American,  it was on Monday.  Cherlie and I joined the team of Relief International in the airport at Fort Lauderdale.  We flew a commercial flight to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic at 6am, then took a taxi to a nearby military base.  There we met up with members of the US Customs and Border Patrol, who are under the Department of Homeland Security.  We put our luggage and supplies  into a hangar which had been taken over by the US soldiers as well as various members of non-government organizations like Friends for Health in Haiti and Relief International.  They had drinking water and port-a-potties, so what more could we want?  In a short while, we and our gear were loaded into a military helicopter and on our way to Port-au-Prince.  It was at that time that I was so very glad our country was behind us.  The soldiers were wonderful and helpful, happy to be able to assist in the crisis and proud of what we were all trying to do together for the people of Haiti.

As we got closer to Port-au-Prince, we began to see signs of earthquake damage, and we quickly landed at the US embassy base in the hills outside the city.  We met up there with other members of the Relief International team, including team leader Dr. Hernando Garzon.  He had arranged for us to stay in the home of a Haitian who was known by one of the team members.  The hospitality that was extended to all 12 of us was amazing. We spread out on the floors, took turns with the showers and bathrooms and were just glad to have such a nice place to stay in!

Today, Tuesday, four of us headed out into the city to look for pockets of people who had been displaced by the earthquake damage.  We also got our first look at the fallen buildings and saw first-hand the incredible destruction.  A few weeks ago, we had driven past the palace and all the government buildings downtown.  Today, the vast majority of them were reduced to rubble.  An artisan shop where I had bought some crafts and paintings last month had fallen over the side of a hillside.  We saw people camping out in makeshift shelters of sheets and tarps  held up with sticks in the ground. – shelters that have now become their new homes.  And, we passed signs that said “Help needed.  Food, water, medicines”.  Drivers of public transportation vehicles and motorcycles had their faces covered with masks and handkerchiefs, and we soon found out why.  The smell of death was all around – a pungent reminder of what lay beneath the piles of rubble where once had been homes and schools and churches and businesses.

It’s not a cliché to say that one’s life can change in an instant.  And for this country and this people, that instant came one week ago.  The needs are so great and the destruction so vast, it boggles the mind.   All  I can think is, how can we best help and how will they (and we) rebuild?

The first question will begin to be answered tomorrow as we begin providing medical care in an area near the epicenter of the earthquake.  We’ll be using Cherlie’s house as a home base and set up a tent clinic in the yard next door.  Security for the team is a major concern and areas where large groups of people are congregated can be dangerous for aid groups.  So, we’re letting larger organizations and the UN peacekeepers handle those areas.  We have no idea what we’ll be confronting , but with 4 Emergency Physicians and several nurses and support people, we feel ready to dig in.

Thousands of people have left Port-au-Prince to go out to their families’ homes in the country.  Many are going out to Jeremie by sailboat and are seeking medical care in the government hospital there.  We are still unable to get out there ourselves, so we’ve committed to being here for the near future.  We know that in the long term, our challenges will be significant, as we face increasing numbers of patients seeking care in our clinic and a scarcity of medications and supplies.  Our own patients and communities are always on our minds and in our hearts and we want to be prepared to meet their needs when we return to them.  So, we appreciate your prayers and your financial support in our time of need.  We would not be able to be here without you.  You truly are helping us make a difference.

Friends for Health in Haiti board members Dr. Tom Mahn and Dr. Greg VonRoenn were interviewed on our local ABC station in Milwaukee, WI.  See the interview here.

The past few days have been quite a whirlwind of activity for Cherlie Severe and myself, as we’ve tried to assess the situation in Haiti from our vantage point in south Florida.  We had planned to fly back to Haiti on Tuesday and resume our normal clinic activities.  But our plans, like those of the 9 million inhabitants of Haiti, went out the window when the earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon, January 12th.

As I mentioned previously, we investigated several possibilities for doing some relief work in the Port-au-Prince area, since we are unable to return to Jeremie at this time.  We have decided to volunteer with Relief International (www.ri.org), a large relief organization that’s based in California.  They already have begun to assemble a team on the ground in Port-au-Prince and we will be joining this initial team tomorrow.  The plan is to fly from Fort Lauderdale to Santo Domingo in the morning and travel to Port-au-Prince either in a US military plane or by land.  We will join the other team members and begin to directly assist the injured.  Further details are uncertain at this point, but it seems that our work there will involve Emergency Medicine skills, language fluency and tropical medicine expertise.

We welcome your prayers for the following:

  • Safety in travel and in our activities.  We may be sleeping “under the stars” for the first few nights there
  • Wisdom and clear thinking in dealing with the difficult medical situations we will surely face
  • Physical stamina as we work in a difficult environment (even more difficult than what we usually face in Haiti)
  • The Lord’s peace in knowing that this is where he wants us right now, rather than with our “family” in Jérémie
  • Clear guidance in terms of the duration of our service and when we can/should return to Jérémie

We do not know how well we will be able to communicate from Haiti, but we’ll try to send information from time to time.  Thank you for your encouragement and support of our efforts in a country filled with great sorrow.

We appreciate your interest in our organization and your desire to help alleviate the tremendous suffering of the Haitian people.  At this time, we are not able to accept any volunteers to help us in Haiti.

We do appreciate your financial support, however, because the ongoing expenses related to running our clinic in Gatineau will most certainly increase in the future weeks and months.  Help us so that we can continue to offer high quality medical care to all in our service area.

If you have donations of medications or medical supplies, please contact board member Dr. Tom Mahn at tmahn@mac.com.

News continues to pour in regarding the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  I’ve spent the past three days on the computer, the telephone and in front of the news channels on TV.  In spite of this, there is much we still do not know and friends in Port-au-Prince we have not yet heard from.  Here is our latest news:

1.  A few buildings have been damaged in Jeremie and we do not know the status of our clinic up in the mountains.  We expect that it is still standing, but haven’t had any direct news.

2.  Cherlie’s house in Port-au-Prince has had some damage, but the extent is uncertain (it’s supposedly “cracked”).  Our greatest concern is that two brothers and their female cousin who had just moved into the house haven’t been heard from since the earthquake.  They were apparently in downtown Port-au-Prince when the quake occurred.  Please pray for their safety.

3.  There is no transportation at this time between Port-au-Prince and Jérémie, by land, air or sea, so we are unable to return to our home and work out there.

4.  We are in the process of investigating work with one of the relief agencies or groups working in the Port-au-Prince area.  This is turning out to be easier said than done, since many of them have their own staff already mobilized and are unable to add additional members to the team.  What is most needed right now are general and orthopedic surgeons, since most people are suffering from traumatic injuries.  I’ll keep you updated with regard to our part in this massive relief process.

5.  I’ve heard that there continue to be aftershocks, even this far out from the main earthquake.  For this reason, most people in the affected areas are still sleeping outside.  Pray that damage from these aftershocks will be minimal and that people will remain safe in their makeshift shelters.

6.  As you can imagine, it will be important to begin the rebuilding process in Haiti very quickly, so that people who are without homes, businesses and livelihoods will not be overwhelmed with despair.  Without crucial supply links, it will be a challenge for us to continue to offer medical care to those in the mountains around Jeremie.  Pray for wisdom as we decide how to use our precious resources.

Dr. Wolf was interviewed on “Here and Now” on Wisconsin Public Television yesterday.  The interview can be found here.

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