The People of Haiti ‘Will Not Be Left Behind’

The Global Health Program at Rush and the Zhou B Art Center have teamed up for a Sept. 9 benefit, Art for Haiti, to help provide health care in impoverished communities. Jennifer Towbin, MD, a hospitalist at Rush, helps spearhead the program.

Jennifer Towbin, MD, (right) with an interpreter during a 2010 trip to Haiti

By Jennifer Towbin, MD

On Jan. 12, 2010, the largest earthquake on record hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  It claimed the lives of thousands, devastated the city and impacted the lives of everyone there. Little did I realize that it would affect me too. Soon after hearing of the earthquake, I knew I wanted to be there to help. Luckily, with the help of the Rush Global Health Program’s counterparts in the Dominican Republic and Dr. Stephanie Wang, 10 days later I found myself traveling to Haiti.

It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The destruction and devastation were indescribable. The pictures shown on the news only partially prepared me for what I saw. The air was thick with dust and debris. One building was leveled to a pile of rubble, while its neighbor was standing untouched. Intermixed with the piles of garbage that lined the streets were makeshift tents and blankets where people were living. They were too scared to be indoors.

Yet, what struck me the most was not the rubble and ruins. It was the citizens of Port-au-Prince. Despite the annihilation of their homes, city and loved ones, the people of Port-au-Prince that we encountered were genuinely resilient men and women. It seemed as if they had said to themselves, “We have a choice; we can either wallow and be bitter, or we can pick ourselves back up and get back to living.” People had resumed their streetside vending. Only now, it was located on top and in between the rubble. People were out with brooms and hammers trying to clean away the debris. Life was not stopping. Continue reading

Haiti Journal: Creating ‘Many Ripples’

By Katie Koren

I am a physical therapist who recently traveled to Haiti with a medical team from Rush University Medical Center. Let me introduce you to several of the Haitians I met:

A 76-year-old woman with cardiac problems and stroke history hobbled for 30 minutes with a stick so she could be seen by our medical team. When she walked, her posture was so kyphotic that her back was almost at a 90-degree angle with her legs. I asked her multiple times during her physical therapy session if she needed a break, and her only answer was no. She desperately wanted to learn to walk again.

Jackie is a 24-year-old interpreter who lost both of his parents in the earthquake and therefore can no longer afford to go to a university. He is saving his money by translating so one day he can go back to school.

Madame La Fleur managed an orphanage that was destroyed after the earthquake. She was relocated to a refugee tent camp with almost 100,000 other people. Her husband took her only biological child and relocated to the United States. She hasn’t heard from him since he fled. She is now living with 30 malnourished children in a refugee tent camp called Jerusalem. Continue reading

Haiti Journal: Moved by ‘Graciousness’

The Rush medical team and hosts

Tom Wilson, assistant vice president, Research Affairs, and senior research administrator, chronicled his visit to Haiti with a medical team from Rush University Medical Center.

Day Seven: Today we traveled to a church in Delmas a few miles from our hostel (a trip of a few miles can take 45 minutes to an hour in Port-au-Prince). The medical ministry at this church is an established, well-managed organization headed by Dr. Jeff Bercy. A section church was already divided into five exam rooms, a triage area, waiting room and pharmacy. All patients were triaged prior to our arrival and waiting to be examined by a doctor.

The clinic had a number of volunteers who could supplement our translators and assist in many other ways. There also was a Haitian pediatrician who was very helpful in examining and diagnosing the many pediatric patients.

After we had seen all of the patients in the clinic that day, I distributed soccer balls and basketballs to the volunteers and children. We left the children with treats and we gave a dozen softballs and a basketball to our logistics coordinator that can be given to needy children when he returns home to the Dominican Republic. Continue reading

Haiti Journal: Visiting a Refugee Camp

Dave Unger in the pharmacy

Tom Wilson, assistant vice president, Research Affairs, and senior research administrator, is chronicling his visit to Haiti with a medical team from Rush University Medical Center.

Day Five: We traveled today to Jerusalem, which is distant from Port au Prince and home to a large refugee camp. The camp is a “temporary” home to people who were displaced one year ago when the earthquake devastated this country. Some of the families live in tents, and others are fortunate enough to have more permanent housing, which consists of a one-room building of cinderblock or wood-frame construction.

Our clinic was set up in two tents where patients were seen, with a lean-to waiting room next to the partially constructed Jerusalem Baptist Church. An adjacent home was used for physical therapy and the front “porch” was used as the triage area. I worked with Dave Unger in the pharmacy, which was housed in our bus transport (we got air conditioning). Despite these crowded conditions, we managed to see over 450 patients with a number of ailments.

After we left the temporary clinic, we visited an orphanage located within the refugee camp. Madame LaFleur ran an orphanage in Port au Prince with her husband that was severely damaged in the earthquake and could no longer be occupied. The orphanage houses 30 children in two large tents at the refugee camp, and we examined each child, providing medications as needed. We also left them with bags of treats, clothing and chewable vitamins. Continue reading

Haiti Journal: Helping at a Community Clinic

Tom Wilson, assistant vice president, Research Affairs, and senior research administrator, is chronicling his visit to Haiti with a medical team from Rush University Medical Center.

Day Three: We spent our second day at the church-based community clinic at the Eglise Khartienne in Carrefour.

Pastor Lemet Zepher spoke to our team before the clinic opened to patients, giving the background of how the clinic was founded and is maintained through volunteers in his church community. The clinic is open to the entire Carrefour neighborhood, not just the church members, and is held on the first and second floors of the church building. The pastor explained expansion plans, which include the construction of separate education and clinic buildings.

I spent most of the day in the pharmacy cleaning and organizing the pharmaceuticals as well as hunting down specific drugs for the physicians and nurses on our team. We treated 140 patients in our clinic with primary care and physical rehabilitation issues.

I was particularly struck by an elderly woman who was receiving rehabilitation treatment of a leg injury. The woman was learning to walk on one of our donated crutches and struggled to walk only a few feet. Her struggle reminded me of the time I spent with my mother at her rehabilitation hospital in New Jersey when she was recovering from orthopedic surgery on the fractured of her femur. I could see my mother’s pain in the face of this woman in Carrefour and was very moved to see the patience and care provided by our physical therapist, Katie Koren. Continue reading