2015 HRFU Haiti Ouanaminthe Trip Summary
Hernia Help’s trip to Haiti last November was full of the usual adventures and misadventures customarily encountered on such missions to desperately poor countries. Two of them are worth the retelling as they bracketed both the beginning and the end of our journey.
Can you imagine our surgical team checking 30 supply bags at Newark New Jersey airport to find that only 29 of them had arrived in Santiago in the Dominican Republic on our way to Haiti. Of course it would be the very one containing all of our suture material and mesh. Fortunately a prescient member of our team (Dr Kern) had packed a “little extra” in his personal luggage and all was well. I wish I could remember the name of the delightful United Airlines agent who managed to find our bag in New Jersey and have it delivered to us within 36 hours. Without the two of them we would have had a very unproductive week indeed.
The real highlight of the week however occurred on Friday afternoon as we were packing to leave and head home. Barging in the door at exactly 1 o’clock came 2 man carrying a 20-year-old pregnant woman unconscious having an eclamptic seizure. Had they arrived one hour later both mother and unborn child would have died. However I’m delighted to tell you that by 1:50 PM both mom and little baby girl “Jersey”, delivered by emergency cesarean section, were coming along nicely in our recovery room. The professionalism and teamwork of our volunteers and the Haitian staff was awesome during that vital three quarters of an hour.
In the meantime 50 procedures were done for hernias and hydroceles with which many of our patients had suffered a lifetime of misery, discomfort and indeed embarrassment. They were readied preoperatively, put to sleep, operated upon, woken up safely and efficiently dispatched home. This was a remarkable achievement considering the conditions my team worked under, and it left everybody including our patients deeply satisfied.
Great care is taken by Hernia Repair for the Underserved in its selection of volunteers and each of them are top class in their chosen fields. Karen Batchelder and Kara Crawford, respectively circulating nurse and scrub tech, worked so well together with Dr. Bob Fitzgibbons, a world renowned surgeon and editor of the journal Hernia, that it was hard to think of them separately.
Edith Marquez and Amy Campeau, both scrub techs, were wonderful. I hope the surgeons they work with Stateside realize that they are sharing the operating room with real gems. Scott Muttel was the life and soul of the team. Only I realize how this trip was in large part due to his efforts in the enormous preparation required beforehand to make it a success. This man can fix anything with duct tape.
Rachel Dowd, pre and post-operative nurse while teaching, arranging discharge and follow-up was ever vigilant constantly on team recordkeeping, necessary administrative work to preserve the Preferential Option for the Poor; that is to maintain high quality of care. . Neena Philip, our preoperative nurse, worked with Rachel Dowd deep in the recesses of the hospital, without air-conditioning. Laboring always with a good-humored laugh, joy and a twinkle in her eye.
Dette Kutch, postoperative nurse, jumped right on board only days before the trip after an unexpected family emergency with one of our volunteers. John Dowd, whose quite gentle help and willingness to do anything made working with him a delight. Austin Philip, was our youngest member at 17. His enthusiasm, good humor and attention to detail bode very well for this young man’s future. He was also our official photographer and I can guarantee you he has the largest collection of hernia photographs of any teenager in the United States!
Drs Guy Salomon and Vadim Galkin, anesthesiologists, both first-timers to Haiti, neither seemed to break a sweat under daunting conditions that could be described at best as spartan. Dr Steven Kern’s, a snowman of a gent from Minnesota, winning wit and wisdom entertained us all mightily, all this along with his remarkable surgical skills. Dr Dwijen Misra, without missing a beat joined us mid-week to provide support when Dr. Fitzgibbons left for a teaching appointment in Argentinian. Dr. Misra’s infectious gregariousness impressed us all.
Such kindness, care, compassion and competence has left both myself and our 60 patients all the better for having known these outstanding professionals.