Reflections on Haitian Medical Mission

Poor Haiti.  Has there ever been a country that fails so mightily to reflect the billions of dollars and countless hours of care that have been lavished upon it?  Haiti is half of the island of Hispaniola, the other half being the Dominican Republic, and it makes me wonder if islands, like people, can have multiple personalities.  The disparity is evident the moment you cross the border, in our case, at the Dajabon/Quanaminthe crossing in the north.  Borders are always chaotic.  Even in the “civilized” worlds of the U.S. or Europe the customs entry ports are a mad scramble of bodies and baggage.  At the northern entry point to Haiti chaos is supreme.  We entered on Monday and left the next Friday, both market days when goods pour across the border from the D.R. and Haitians barter for everything from rice and beans to bottles of cognac.

From the U.S. we had flown to Santiago, D.R. and from there it was a three hour bus ride to the border.  We literally walked from the border to our hotel, perhaps a half mile in total.  The hotel was a pleasant surprise.  It was clean and safe.  We had no hot water but I didn’t expect it so that was fine.  We did have air conditioning but no light in the room, just the overhead light in the bathroom which, disturbingly, had a persistent leak which we sopped up with towels for the first few days and then with a gallon jug that I remolded into a bucket with the help of my trusty Leatherman tool. On medical missions you learn to make do with what you have and be thankful for it.

Hearts Afire always has an on-the-scene organization with which it partners to better assure a successful mission.  In this case it was two organizations: Christian Family Church (Tampa and Sarasota) and Danita’s Children, based in Quanaminthe.

Danita Estrella is a remarkable woman who moved to Haiti 12 years ago after falling in love with the country while serving as a translator for a group of physicians.  She has constructed a compound — Hope for Haiti Children’s Center — that houses approximately 70 orphans and educates 500 children from the town of Quanaminthe.  She graciously allowed us to set up our clinics in her compound and in the four days that we were in Haiti we saw approximately 500 patients, mostly children.

"Baby Abscess" with large abscess on right jaw, likely caused by strep.

Whenever you do a mission there is always one case that will stay with you for years and perhaps forever.  In Haiti it was “Baby Abscess” who was named for the enormous abscess he had on his right jaw.  Initially Dr. Vega and physician assistant Ken felt there was nothing they could do and told the mother to take the baby to the hospital.  To their dismay they learned that the mother had done so, just that morning. The hospital took no action to drain the abscess and would not give the mother antibiotics because she had no money.

The team, unfortunately, did not have proper equipment to aspirate the abscess so there was little else to do except lance it. Ken showed remarkable courage and skill in doing so.  I will not describe what emerged from the lanced area but will only say it was putrid and clearly septic.  We gave the child a shot of antibiotics and told the mother to return the next day, at the same time of day, which she faithfully did.

We gave the child another shot of antibiotics and provided oral antibiotics for the mother who was complaining of a sore throat.  Dr. Vega examined her and saw the beginnings of strep throat so we assume the baby’s abscess was strep-related.  There is no doubt that we saved this child whose death would have been agonizing from either sepsis or a constricted airway.

Baby Abscess on our final mission day

I remember another child in India who was seemingly near death’s door  yet after one bag of IV fluids she was out the door and playing with her friends. I think that is what prompts so many of us to return to these missions even though they are physically and emotionally challenging.  We can never know what will happen to these individuals that we help but in my heart I like to think that the kindness we extend to them will be passed on to others and, most of all, to poor little Haiti. ❧

To see more of my Haiti photos visit my photo site:

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