I wrote the following article about Midland medical personnel which appeared Sunday along with photos
Prayer in the form of song resonated from within the tan orthopedic tent as medical personnel from around the world worked through the night at the University of Miami Global Institute for Community Health and Development field hospital at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Filled with mostly teenagers, one by one the group of a little more than a dozen patients began singing.
“There is going to be hope. There is going to be peace,” Dr. Dree Stryker, OBGYN PC at Covenant Hospital and resident of Midland, said as she listened to the prayer song. In the midst of such chaos, Stryker said she broke down hearing the song and joined in the prayer with her patients.
Then, just as the prayer ended, one of three older patients coded and was unresponsive.
“I had no idea what was going on. She had been stable,” Stryker said.
She slid in an IV and got a slow pulse. The woman was rushed to the back of the large pediatric tent where four operating tables were set up for the constant surgeries that were performed each day. Right before the team of seven Midland area nurses and doctors found themselves racing to pack their bags to catch a flight back to Miami, she became conscious.
It was one final relief for the team, which was leaving behind nearly 260 patient-filled beds and a fluctuating number of volunteers.
Earlier in the week, the team set up shop in a rural area of Cite Soleil, a poverty stricken slum near downtown Port-au-Prince. It was there where they turned a school set up by Midlander Mallery Thurlow through her non-profit Haiti Foundation Against Poverty into a clinic for the community.
Jean Viergeméne escorted her mother, Fillette Fils-Aimé, into one of the classrooms run by MidMichigan Medical Center emergency room nurses Rob Kelch and Tammie Cormier. When the earthquake hit, Fils-Aimé was cooking. She tried to run to safety, but in the process fell onto an open flame, suffering third degree burns on her left leg and second degree burns on her left arm. As Kelch and Cormier worked to clean the three-week-old untreated wounds, Fils-Aimé clutched her daughter and rested in her arms.
Fils-Aimé was one of the few quake-injured patients the doctors and nurses saw early on in Haiti. They had flown to the country on Jan. 27 with a goal of helping as many injured people as they could in a one-week time period. But what they initially found were Haitian residents who needed medical care, but not as a result of the quake.
Frustration for the medical team began to set in after the second day. Two van loads of pregnant women were brought to the clinic. Angela Williamson, nurse anesthetist at Beaumont Hospital near Detroit, worked with Stryker the best they could, but were equipped for surgeries and were not able to perform an ultrasound. While the team felt their help was needed in this community, where many people live without ever seeing a doctor, they felt their time would have been better served finding people who were more seriously injured and in need of immediate assistance.
A decision was made that night to search out those patients in Port-au-Prince.
The following morning, Dr. Brian Mauch, a pediatrician, and Gail McGee, a pediatric nurse at MidMichigan Medical Center, returned to the clinic to see a few more patients while the rest of the team headed to Port-au-Prince airport, where they had received word a hospital was set up.
Riding on the back of a white pickup truck, the group drove through the congested streets of Port-au-Prince to arrive at a gate guarded by U.S. military personnel and an armored U.N. vehicle. The truck was waved through and came to a stop outside of five large tents, three of which held patients, one supplies and the other was a shelter with cots for the doctors and nurses who rotated shifts.
Within 20 minutes, they were put to work.
“I was very excited because we were finally working with the earthquake victims,” Kelch said. But at the same time, “I was very overwhelmed by the huge size of the hospital and all of the patients.” Once Kelch got into the swing of things, he worked 21 hours straight the first day.
If members of the team were able to get sleep over the next three days they were at the hospital, it was not much, as they worked around the clock, filling the night shift when the hospital was short staffed or working whatever jobs needed to be done.
One of the patients they treated was George Alex, 28, who was inside a school when the earthquake hit. Through a translator, he said everything started to shake and he paused to look around and try to understand what was happening. He started running to escape through the nearest window when a wall fell on top of him, followed by the roof of the school. Alex said he lost his senses for a few minutes as he lay under the rubble. He shut his eyes and said he spoke to God when his senses came back and realized he could not move his body. After two hours laying under the rubble, two other people who were in the school and managed to escape came back and dug him out.
He was laid flat on his back on a door, strapped in with bed sheets and cloth to keep him still. He remained like that for two days before going to a motel that was set up to treat people.
However, laying on his back, he said the heat was so intense and there was little attention to survivors who were in critical condition, that he saw many people die around him from lack of water. Five hospitals later, he arrived at the airport hospital, having gone seven total days without medical care for what he later found to be a cervical spine injury.
Permanently paralyzed, he has movement of his arms and limited movement of his neck and head. After a few days at the airport hospital, he was one of the few being shipped to a hospital in the states.
One patient of Dr. Ader Benoit, resident OBGYN at Covenant Hospital, was a 3-year-old boy who also was paralyzed. He recalled the mother saying, “If you can’t fix him, I don’t want him.”
“People don’t realize the damage done to them is going to be permanent,” he said. In a place where children are thrown into trash dumps for having birth defects, Beniot, who is Haitian, said there is a long road to recovery and rehabilitation.
It was Tuesday evening when word came that a flight would be leaving that night and the next flight out of Port-au-Prince to Miami could take until Friday night.
The original plan was to leave on Wednesday night because many of the doctors and nurses, who took vacation time and used personal finances to make it to Haiti for a week, had to get back to their jobs on Friday. While some continued to work, others went to the sleeping tent and scrambled to pack as much as they could, leaving behind food and supplies that people may need.
Stryker passed out her remaining food and granola bars to patients in her tent. All of the doctors worked to the last minute until coordinators at the hospital could find people to fill their shoes. At 10:30 p.m. several vehicles came to take them to the airport, where they joined another handful of medical personnel heading home to places across the United States. On the two hour flight to Miami, every team member was finally able to sleep.
Having barely slept in the last three days, working around the clock, Stryker sat in the front seat on the drive from Detroit to Midland on Wednesday afternoon looking at her calendar and sending e-mails from her phone, coordinating the next trip she could make to Haiti.
Friday afternoon, Kelch, also a full-time graduate student at Saginaw Valley State University studying to be a nurse practitioner, was trying to catch up on nearly three weeks of school. He had gone to Haiti with another group a week prior. His goal to become a nurse was inspired by a desire to become a full-time missionary in Haiti.
“I would love to go back tomorrow,” he said after he arrived to his Midland home.
All photos are copyright John Tully, Concord Monitor, Midland Daily News, The Washington Times, The Patriot-News, The Free Lance-Star, or The Potomac News © 2008.
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