The following is a blog post recounting the first days in Haiti a year ago and the reasons why the need for orthopaedic care continues and why some volunteers want to return to continue the original mission. This post is the first of two parts written about the return to Haiti.
A year ago we sat stunned while watching and hearing in disbelief about the earthquake that devastated Haiti. A country already struggling with poverty, lacking many basic conveniences that we take for granted each day. The earthquake leveled buildings, destroyed lives, closed down entire cities, leaving those who survived to sift through the rubble trying to find loved ones who had disappeared while attempting to rebuild their lives.
“How many times can you hear a plea for help without hearing it?” said Dr. Golladay during our discussion, “What could we do? We had to help.” There was little means to prepare for the initial trip to Haiti. There was no way of knowing what to expect or how to prepare for what would be happening in a dust-covered, rubble-strewn Haiti. There was no time to obtain vaccines, to properly locate medical supplies. Instead, “preparing” meant snapping up passports and packing up a few basic essentials – this is how the first team could got ready for this experience.
During the start of the efforts in Haiti, there were no commercial jets flying in and out of the country, there were no established routes for supplies, no way of knowing what makeshift medical facilities had what needs. And even if a physician took stock of medical supply levels, those needs would change with an unexpected truckload of injured Haitians hopeful for medical assistance. And so things went, day in and day out.
So how did it all begin? How was OAM able to step up and step in during those early days in January of 2010?
Dr. Asperheim was a college friend of Mark Weigle, PAC who was now participating in Partners in Health. One quick email from Mark led to another and Dr. Asperheim asked who within OAM would be able to help.
It takes a village.
Before a physician could commit to the Haiti mission, a bigger decision had to be made. Who at OAM, back in Grand Rapids, would step up and take care of patients and caseloads while those who chose to go to Haiti led the medical efforts on the hundreds of miles away? “They [physicians and staff members at OAM] were willing to step in at a moment’s notice and take our case loads so we could help in Haiti. Patients were also supporting us and willing to work with our staff to make arrangements while we were gone,” admitted Dr. Golladay. It’s a testament to solid West Michigan roots. We stand together to help one another for a greater common goal. This time it was in Haiti.
When the first team landed they flew straight into Port-au-Prince and found themselves surrounded by chaos and destruction. Medicine and supplies donated from generous local West Michigan donors enclosed the first Haiti mission group. At that time there were no surgeons, no staff, people were scattered all over the roads in dire need of help. The team quickly gathered whatever additional supplies they could and began to work. The team would need some basics, which included; some clean water, a room to work in and a place to sleep. Considering the situation, those were going to be a luxury.
“We ended up having to perform four amputations within the first five hours of landing,” Dr. Golladay recollects, “We would end up seeing 1,600 patients within five days.” The local school became their recovery room, Double Harvest became their makeshift hospital. Crutches were created from wood found at a local farm.
Time pressed on, and after a few days the team realized they needed to begin keeping records of patients and supplies; they needed more organization to help function in order to be more effective in helping those in need. Double Harvest was critical in helping people in Haiti, this location ended up being the best running medical center, with 200 plus volunteers coming through its doors over a two-month period.
Life goes on…
How does a person adjust to life back in Grand Rapids after an experience like Haiti? Some of the team members who went to Haiti did experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Everyone was sleep deprived, but knew that they had to press on. “It didn’t hit until I saw the next team walking down the road to meet us,” Dr. Golladay remembers, “They pressed a cell phone into my hand (connections were patchy at best up until then.) and told me to phone in a blog post. Everyone back home wanted to know what was going on. Having to relive it was very difficult.”
There is so much need at home, why did OAM get involved with the original Haiti mission? OAM helped raise awareness about the problems Haiti was experiencing, along with many groups that sent volunteers to Haiti: OAM, Double Harvest, Partners in Health, ISOH – just to name a few – all were able to focus on the issues and bring them to light.
We live very comfortably in our homes with our families; it’s our obligation to give back to those less fortunate. Contribute your own way – not everyone can go to Haiti. Some people donate goods and supplies while other people went to Haiti to administer medical aid and some adopted orphaned children from Haiti. Each individual is contributing in a special way to help save lives and mend broken lives and bones.
The following post highlights the decision to return to Haiti a year later.