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Monthly Archives: October 2015

SPECIAL GUEST BLOG: Dr. Allison Furey on returning to Haiti.

Dr. Allison Furey is one of the original members of Team Broken Earth.

Our trip to Haiti, 21 weeks after the earthquake, changed our lives.  We left behind two young children (at the time), with a backpack full of DEET, mosquito nets and some Cliff bars, to help during a time of disaster to a nation in need.

Easy-peasy, so I thought.

A few days before we left, I got a little nervous after Andrew finally gave me the details on security, sleeping quarters and armed guards driving our vehicles.  But I was reassured that “we would be fine” and not to worry.

Getting off the plane, with the thick, hot air hitting us like a wall and walking to the airport, I thought twice about how “fine” we actually would be.  We forged on, but nothing could have prepared me for the vision I would encounter of sheer devastation, flattened homes, blatant poverty, piles of rubble, streets of chaos, miles of tent cities, unthinkable scents, helpless souls who had lost loved ones so recently and hopeless eyes in those seeking medical attention at our free clinic and surgical center.  I use the word “center” loosely, since it was, after all, a parking lot with blue tarps creating examination rooms.

After a long week of hard work, our team was the last mission to provide care in that center.  Imagine walking away from a hospital ward full of sick children and adults, with nowhere to go to receive the medical attention that they needed and deserved.

I was not prepared for that helpless, guilty emotion.

I can still feel the pit in my stomach on the afternoon that we packed up our supplies and equipment after emotional good bye’s and tight hugs of thanks, and simply drove away, trying to hold back my tears.

Why was I so upset?  Our patients should be upset…but they weren’t…they handed out humble smiles of gratitude and soft waves as we shut the doors.  I quickly realized that this was their reality…an unfair reality.  A few months was not long enough to help Haiti.

Over the last 4 years, from home, I’ve watched Andrew lead more than a dozen missions to Haiti.  Every time we started the routine preparation for take off: pack the red bags, buy Kraft dinner, get instant coffee, hand sanitizer, medications, find the Crocs, and prepare for a week away from home. I felt that pit well up inside.  A deep desire has sat within me to return to Haiti and be a part of the team that does the work to make a difference in the lives of the Haitian people.

Here I am, 5 years later, reunited with Haiti… The streets are cleared, buildings are new, houses are not piles of rubble… I didn’t even see a tent city between the airport and the hospital!  The streets are still bustling with people and street vendors, Tap Tap’s, motorcylists with no helmets and crazy drivers, but that’s normal for Haiti!  It’s a relief to see that the surface of the city is improved.  That is something Haiti should be proud of.

Even though Team Broken Earth is near to my heart, and in my mind, I had created an image of the hospital our teams return to time and time again. I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of overwhelming pride I felt as I crossed through the gates, made so familiar from pictures and videos.  We were greeted with open, happy arms by hospital staff, just like family.  Team Broken Earth has a true presence at this place, it’s palpable.  I know first hand, how much time goes into sustaining the relationship between Team Broken Earth and Haiti (it is more often, than not, our topic of conversation at the supper table).

The completion of the new building, housing a new hospital wing is a virtual testament to the hard work and challenges overcome in completing a project of this magnitude in a country like Haiti.  I’ve never been so proud.  It is an icon of sustainability, growth and advancement in a place where all of that seemed impossible a few short years ago.

My first shift in the ER this week was the hardest I’ve ever worked, and much of our efforts were futile, in the end.  We were surrounded by death in the emergency room, trauma’s kept coming in, the newborns came in one after another, and the hospital was full, with nowhere to put the sickest children I’ve ever seen.

I left that ER after 12 hours, exhausted and drained, frustrated, sad and angry. Sad that this could be the norm here, and accepted.  Sad that we had to tell a father that left his wife at the maternity hospital, to rush his newborn to our hospital in hopes that he would live, that we did everything we could, and the baby didn’t make it… through an interpreter.  Sad that I watched him weep in the midst of public chaos at the death of his baby, not even old enough to have a name.  Angry that I couldn’t do more. Angry that there is such despair in this world and that baby would have lived if he were to be born in Canada.  Angry that the only difference between me and that father, is where we were born.

I’m not used to losing patients, so it was a good thing that the next day we saved a baby, who I’m happy to report is steadily improving in the PICU, with his mama at his side.  I’ll also let you know that one of the best feelings all week was giving a 6 year old boy a pair of Transformer sunglasses… he was just as excited as Mark would be, if I had brought them home to him!  Kids are the same, across the world… resilient and happy… and their smiles will melt me, every time!

So, Haiti has come a long way in 5 years.  Team Broken Earth has evolved from a team providing disaster relief, to a team that provides support and education to a healing country, with a whole lot of potential.  I think we’ve reached some gracious health professionals at this hospital… at this point, we are learning from them as much, if not more, than they learn from us.  Working and learning together makes us all stronger.

Thank you, Team Broken Earth, for providing an avenue to make a truly sustainable difference in a community that needs it so desperately. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the day that Haiti doesn’t need us anymore?  I think we’re on our way!

– Allison

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Posted by on October 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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SPECIAL GUEST BLOG: “We’re just happy to be here.”

Brad Moss is currently on the ground in Haiti with our NL team on their latest medical mission.

“We’re just happy to be here.” These words were spoken by the men of NASA in response to a question by the US media about being chosen as participants in the 1960s Mercury project.

Now those words apply to me. As a community-based volunteer, a regular working guy who joined Lions International 12 years ago, I feel like I’ve been asked to join the space program. I’m sure you can imagine the mild anxiety associated with a Lion joining a team of physicians, nurses and allied health professionals bound for Haiti for a week of hard work at an over-taxed hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Fifteen months of preparation for the first Lions / Broken Earth vision mission has taught me that international relief missions are Herculean tasks. The teleconferences, the packing lists, the inoculations, the supplies, getting everything in a holding pattern at home and at work…it consumes you. Could I really contribute? Would I be accepted by these people with whom I share no professional affiliation?

I very quickly learned the answers to those questions are “yes” and “without question.”

Over the past four days our small team, consisting of Team Broken Earth liaison and human dynamo Meghan Gardner, the generous and jovial Lion Michael Foote, our dedicated and tireless Optometrists Lion (Dr.) Richard Buchanan and Dr. Trudy Metcalfe and myself have screened 448 Haitians for eye diseases and refractive errors. The vast majority have never seen an Optometrist in their lives. Two out of three people screened required a consult. Most of those required glasses from our supply. When we arrive in a yard full of people who have waited hours in the sun for just the chance of seeing an eye doctor there is no grief, no noise, only a stoic and hopeful “bonjour” as we file past to start our day.

The hours fly by, with no breaks, as we push ourselves to serve as many of them as possible. It all stops when you see the change in an 8 year old girl’s facial expression when she sees clearly for the first time ever. It’s unforgettable watching a teenage girl leave the yard as she repeatedly takes the glasses off and puts them on again – you couldn’t buy that feeling if you tried.

In the moment, these rewards are very short-lived. Soak it in and on to the next patient from Mike’s visual acuity queue. My role is to take portable auto-refractions and make a cluster of decisions with Mike about whether a referral to Rick and Trudy is necessary. Without their professional know-how none of this would be taking place.

Likewise, none of this would be taking place without the unequivocal support of the Lions of District N4 and our home Clubs in Portugal Cove – St. Philips, Old Perlican and Springdale, who’ve put their trust and hard – earned money into this cause.  To them, I say we are doing our level best here every day to represent the Lions of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This year, our International Lions President, Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada from Japan, chose the words Dignity, Humanity and Harmony as his motto for 2015. I can’t think of better words to describe the work the entire TBE/Lions group is aspiring to do here. I’ve never been prouder to be a Lion, and I know the same goes for Mike and Rick.

As for Broken Earth: as Lions we remain in awe of this remarkable homegrown humanitarian effort. Take it from me… they are doing our province and its people proud. My resolve to strengthen the partnership between our great organizations is steely. The collegiality, encouragement and recognition of our work by the medical team is appreciated more than any of them realize. I’m really not sure I’ve ever met more dedicated professionals in my life.  What an inspiring and fun group to be around. Without knowing it, they are exuding that motto of Dignity, Harmony and Humanity every waking minute.

Hey, we’re just happy to be here.

– Brad

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Second winds and little wins.

Thank God things slowed down a little yesterday, but I guess that is all relative. Emotions were running high after the first two days, so it was a timely reprieve.

I often get asked, are you exhausted? Today, I did. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely tired. As I was laying down on a stretcher in an empty operating room, I thought about how I was going to get the energy to do a big case.  I thought about the team here and at home.  The inspiration and energy came straight from them, and my tank started filling again. Thanks to you guys for that. Second wind achieved. Back at it.

This trip is the quintessential emotional rollercoaster but there can be some great views that come with it.  I witnessed that yesterday. An ambulance sits with the lights flashing in the hospital parking lot.  Not a big surprise for any hospital, right?  But this ambulance is brand new, and shines with the logo of Team Broken Earth painted on its side.  Thanks to the Malley’s and Collins’ back in Canada, we are able to transfer patients to get the care they need.  I cannot help but smile every time I walk past it. Another little win.

The nurses in the OR have barely had time to sit down.   From 7 in the morning to late into the evening, they never complain and never slow down. We have more work to do then we can ever get done and the push is on.

The eye clinic, run with the Lions Club of Newfoundland, has been so successful. Almost too much! The lines are long lines but all kinds of patients are receiving eye care and free glasses.  This has to be something we do again.

The nurses have been using their down time to teach pediatrics and life support skills while Dr. Paddy Whalen teaches surgical skills to a group of residents.  That will make more of a difference than any individual surgery we do while we are here.

Sometimes I think the need of care is the only constant in Haiti. We visited another hospital and it had what seemed like hundreds of patients, all in desperate need of care and no access.  People were laying on the floor, because the beds were full.  What beds they did have were falling apart.  Maybe the floor was the better option.   We passed through the emergency department and there were people waiting with all kinds of ailments, all acute, for days to be seen.   We are lucky to be making the hospital we work in here a little bit better but this is a reminder of work yet to be done.  Passing by their pediatric ward, my heart pangs and I miss my kids so, so much.

It’s election time here in Haiti.  Apparently that is the reason for escalated violence. It made me think of how lucky we are at home. I mean, regardless of who you voted for, or if you voted at all, you could rest peacefully knowing that there would be no violence, and that the process would be fair. That would be a luxury here and I’ve seen far too many gunshot wounds this week to reinforce that point.

It’s a count your blessings kind of moment. I know I am a lucky man. My kids will grow up in Canada.  They’ll take for granted the rights and freedoms that we enjoy daily.  They will never forgo treatment wondering who is going to pay for a medical bill. They will never worry about being shot when they vote. They will travel around our country without fear and will have the freedom to chase their dreams. A lucky man indeed.

I am always incredibly humbled and inspired by the team members, and this trip is no different.   Everyone using vacation time, and taking time away from their loved ones. Using their skills to help.

A simple concept really. Using your talents to help others, not for money, or for fame, but because you can. You cannot always enact the change you would like to see, but you always can make a difference. That’s what I hope my kids learn, live and breath… to leave this place a little better than you found it.

I am hoping Haiti is a little better today because of us.

– Andrew

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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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For every high, a low… living the balancing act of Haiti.

This ritual is second nature. It starts at 2 am Newfoundland time. 32 people get out of bed and tiredly make their way to the airport in the middle of a chilly Fall night. Add to that the fact that they’re giving their vacation time for this. Time away from their families too. Makes me feel a little guilty for resenting the alarm clock.

I can’t sleep on the flight. Feeling a little anxious. Excited. The team’s now made this trip many times but this will be a week full of firsts. We have, for the first time, an eye clinic run in partnership with the Lions Club and incredible Lions Brad and Mike. This will help screen and provide glasses for hundreds of people throughout the week.

Every time we are here, we struggle with head trauma and brain tumors that we cannot treat, but, this time, for the first time, we are equipped with a neurosurgeon. Dr. Englebrecht will help provide the much needed care and education.

Closer to me personally, it will be the first time my wife, Allison, has returned to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake.  The birth of our little guy has kept her away.  I am excited, nervous and anxious for her to see the fruits of her efforts and what the team has built.  She has been a behind the scenes steady hand for Broken Earth from the beginning.  She will offer a unique view on all that we have accomplished, and where we should be heading.

Our arrival in Haiti was made even extra special when we finally were able to do a walk through of the new building at the hospital. You. Us. Our many teams. Our countless donors and our most special supporters like Brendan Paddick and Columbus Communications. We ALL did this. Together, we’ve helped build a two-story building that will DOUBLE the patient capacity and provide new volunteer quarters as well.

This is a landmark moment for our team. This represents the pinnacle of three years of negotiations with Caribbean contractors, stakeholders, hospital architects, and builders (all of which was outside my day-to-day comfort zone as a surgeon!). What we do here every day, treating patients and teaching medical skills, leaves a huge impact.  But this building will make a lasting impact on the delivery of care in Haiti.

For all of us, this is a true legacy.

What a great first day. I was on such a high but had no idea how short-lived it would be.

The next day started as all other do here… sunshine and the team gelling.

Our Biomed superstar, Patrick Clark, was busy fixing all the broken equipment we will need for the rest of the week.  It was a busy clinic with patients and surgeons moving swiftly to get the work done.

At about midday the tone changed.

A police officer that had been shot and had emergency surgery the previous night, died while heavily armed officers kept a somber vigil at his bedside. As this was happening, a brand new baby, literally only hours old, came in and wasn’t breathing. They both lay side by side in the ER.

The team rallied to save the child. Chest compressions. Tubes in and all hands on deck.  An impressive coordination of effort. Sadly, all efforts to save the officer had failed and he passed away just feet from where life was slowly returning to this small child.

No sooner than that episode was over and there was another new born who was not breathing.  Without missing a beat the team rallied again, not recovered from the previous flat-lined baby.  As we were doing chest compressions on this baby, another police officer with a significant head injury arrived.  As if this was not crazy enough, a 16 year-old pediatric patient in the ICU coded.

Two pediatric resuscitations at once.

God dammit, if at the exact same time another gunshot victim, this time to the chest, was rushed into the ER.  All of this happening while our general surgeon was treating a stomach gunshot wound in the OR.

You pause for a moment. Because a moment is all you have. This is the reality of Haiti. Struggle. Violence. Life and death, all so close and so constant.

I would like to be able to tell you that we saved everyone.

The first baby is still alive this morning.

There’s hope there.

Maybe that more defines this place than anything else. The struggle is just to live. But the hope? The hope is that things will get better. The high of seeing the new building when I arrived is now tangled among the tubes keeping a child alive. The hope is always that things will get better.

The balancing act continues.

Andrew

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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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