(I'm writing a series of posts on Providence's blog describing the past 5+ weeks. Here is the first part)
I'm going to write a series of posts describing how, from my perspective, I ended up helping run a field hospital in Haiti. It's not something I ever thought I'd do. But there is no where else I'd rather be, and nothing else I'd rather be doing, at this moment in my life.
I arrived in Haiti on Sunday, January 17th--five days after the earthquake. Heartline Hospital & Clinic opened up the next day. Five and a half weeks have now passed since the earthquake, and January 11th, the last time life felt relatively normal for me, feels like a year ago. To fully describe the past month and a half would be impossible, but I'm going to try.
To start, I want to express my gratitude to each and every person who has prayed, donated money, donated supplies & medications, and donated their time to helping Haiti. This is not a cliche--what we are doing here in Haiti would not be possible without the support that has flowed in from around the world. I truly wish I could thank each person individually. I will try to name as many people as possible in this post and the upcoming posts, but any omission is not intentional. I am simply overwhelmed by the support.
Heartline Ministries has been working in Haiti for the past 20 years. Their ministry has mainly focused on caring for orphaned and abandoned children, facilitating adoptions, and running several programs for women (providing pre-natal care for pregnant women, a birthing program, post-birth educational and child development classes, and a sewing class). Because they've been in Haiti for over 20 years, they know the country well and are well-connected. After the earthquake, they immediately started asking the question: "How can we best help?" Fairly quickly, they decided to focus on providing medical care for some of the thousands of people injured in the quake.
The walls surroundings most of Heartline's buildings/houses sustained major damage, but all of the buildings themselves sustained only minor damage and were safe enough to be occupied. Because of their pre-natal and birthing program, they already had some medical supplies available. Real Hope for Haiti came through big time, delivering hundreds of pounds of medications and supplies to Heartline in the days following the quake. Many people who had been in Haiti since long before the quake (working with Heartline and other associated ministries) worked long hours organizing the clinic, setting up living quarters for the volunteers, and developing a plan for how the clinic would run.
In the meantime, a medical team was coming together in the U.S. All of us have a story about how we made it to Haiti. For me, it started the minute I learned about the earthquake. I had just arrived at work. I got an e-mail on my phone from Tara Livesay. The rest of that night is a blur. I was at work, but I was completely consumed by the magnitude of what had just happened, overwhelmed by the uncertainty of what was to come, and panicked by not knowing if everyone I knew in Haiti was safe. My colleagues at work were very gracious to me that night. They understood when I needed to step away to make a phone call or check my phone for e-mail or text message updates. It's difficult to describe the panic we all felt that first night.
One of my bosses, Dr. Rob Sicoli, happened to be in the ER that night. He told me immediately: "If you can find a way to get to Haiti, you should go help. We will support you." By the following morning, I was already exploring ways to get to Haiti and help. I called Rob and asked if he was serious about what he'd said the night prior. He assured me that he was. I'm currently completing a pediatric emergency medicine fellowship program that is sponsored by both Children's Hospitals and Clinics and the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics. In order to go to Haiti, I needed the support of both places, and I received that support in abundance. Dr. Manu Madhok, the fellowship director, and Dr. Mark Roback from the Department of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the U of MN arranged for my time in Haiti to count towards fellowship requirements so that I didn't need to take any unpaid time off to be here. Dr. Sicoli, along with his co-director, Dr. David Hirschman, helped arrange coverage for my ER shifts.
The days leading up to my departure were a blur of phone calls, e-mails, packing, very little sleep, and an overall feeling of wanting to get to Haiti as quickly as possible. During that time, many of my co-workers at Children's generously offered to cover my ER shifts. My home church, Woodland Hills Church, took up an offering and has raised over $40,000 for Haiti earthquake relief, some of which has helped fund the work we've been doing with Heartline. Providence Ministries covered my travel expenses to Florida and helped purchase essential supplies and medications that we used during those first days. Greg and Marcia Erickson from Providence, along with my parents, cleared their schedules and in the last 24 hours before I left did everything from running errands to packing to cleaning to you name it--they were amazing.
Getting from Minneapolis to Port au Prince was an adventure that included flying to Orlando on Saturday the 16th, landing around 8 PM, driving to Fort Lauderdale in the middle of the night, sorting through thousands of pounds of medications and supplies, trying to decide which ones were the most critical to get to Haiti first (when in reality they were all critical), then flying into Haiti on the morning of the 17th on a 6 seat plane chartered by an organization called Clean the World. I had no previous connection with Clean the World--they generously offered me a seat on their flight. Heartline also chartered their first flight that same morning, loaded up with several of the first medical volunteers, along with thousands of pounds of supplies, medications, and food.
Once arriving in Haiti I met up with Troy and Tara Livesay, some of my best friends. I lived with their family in Haiti back in 2008, and I've been staying in their house since arriving in Haiti last month. It was so good to see them, hug them, and talk to them.
We spent all day Sunday organizing the clinic space, medications/pharmacy, and supplies. By the end of the day, we were ready to go. We opened the clinic on Monday the 18th, six days after the quake. We had four doctors (myself, an emergency medicine physician, an anesthesiologist, and a family medicine physician), several nurses, a paramedic, and many support personnel. It's unfortunate that people frequently single out the work being done by doctors and nurses for special praise, because the truth is that every single person, medical and non-medical alike, has played an essential role in what we're doing.
Next up: 1st and 2nd weeks of clinic & Minnesota connections