With the second anniversary of the earthquake that struck Haiti just days away, a team of medical practitioners from this province is getting ready to head back to Port-au-Prince — the area hardest hit by the Jan. 12, 2010 quake.
Dr. Andrew Furey is an orthopedic surgeon with Eastern Health and an assistant professor of surgery at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
He heads a team of about 28 medical practitioners going to Haiti for a weeklong stay in February, where they’ll treat up to 500 patients.
The trip will be Furey’s fifth medical mission to Haiti, and third trip as part of Eastern Health’s Team Broken Earth — a volunteer team of physicians, nurses and physiotherapists formed after the earthquake killed up to 250,000 people and left more than a million people homeless.
This will be Team Broken Earth’s fourth trip to Haiti since the disaster.
On early trips, Furey said, about 80 per cent of the patients were earthquake victims.
The statistics have changed, he said, with about 80 per cent of the patients now requiring treatment for acute injuries and illnesses such as gunshot wounds, broken bones, meningitis and numerous other diseases.
The health professionals take vacation time to volunteer with the team.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. One in 10 children dies before age five.
Memorial University, Eastern Health, the University of Miami and Project Medishare — an organization founded in 1994 by doctors from the University of Miami to help the people of Haiti — are partners in the Haiti trips.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Jeremy Pridham was part of the July 2011 mission.
He’s going again in February.
“When I went down in July I didn’t know what to expect … but the way I compare it, it was like seven days in a row of your worst call days. We saw a lot of trauma and anywhere between two to four gunshot wounds a day.”
Pridham said it’s rewarding to make a difference in people’s lives — one patient at a time. He recalled helping a Haitian medical student who had been suffering, without treatment, from a neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis.
“By the time we saw him, he was gagging on his own salvia. He couldn’t walk, just barely able to breathe.”
The young man was given an anesthesia-related drug.
“With 15 minutes he was sitting up in bed and he walked out towards the bathroom. I felt like one of these Evangelical preachers,” Pridham said.
The patient continued to be monitored and treated, and is now back to his medical studies.
However, not all stories have happy endings.
Because of a shortage of medical equipment such as ventilators, the health providers must decide which patients have the greatest chance of survival.
“There are some very tough decisions to be made,” Pridham said.
Jane Mulcahy is a nurse in the Janeway’s intensive care unit. Her experience in Port-au-Prince in July 2011 is also why she’s going back in February.
“There were a set of (premature) twins there the whole time we were there. Their mother was there with them. You wonder how they made out once you leave, but there’s really no way of knowing,” Mulcahy said.
The mission is not only an opportunity to save babies, Mulcahy said, it’s a chance for share your knowledge with Haitian nurses.
Furey is intent on taking the partnership between the Haitians and Team Broken Earth to another level by bringing Haitian health providers to Memorial University to further their medical training.
“They are overworked, they are exhausted and, on top of that, they’ve lost family members and colleagues, and they still have to care for their local people. They’re interested in learning and they want to improve, so we’d like to use this opportunity to help them so they can provide for themselves.”
Team Broken Earth is holding a “Rock Op for Haiti” fundraiser on Jan. 14 at the Johnson Geo Centre. Comedian Jonny Harris is hosting the event. Great Big Sea is providing the entertainment.
The evening includes a live auction and Haitian-inspired food prepared by some of the city’s top chefs from Blue on Water, Raymonds, Red Oak Catering and “Top Chef Canada” finalist Todd Perrin.
The team is grateful for the support they’ve already received from individuals and various other businesses, including local marketing agency m5 and Wavelight Productions.
Furey is optimistic the fundraiser will bring in between $50,000 and $100,000 — enough money to cover the cost of the February mission as well as other trips later in the year. Tickets for the event are $400 with tax receipts provided.
Furey said the Haiti missions always remind him why he became a doctor.
“Even though it looks like a great volunteer effort … it gives me a good sense of self-worth. And is hopefully a good example to my kids and my family.”