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Butterfly in a hurricane.

Been a long few days, hey? The pictures of the devastation in Haiti have been moving, the numbers staggering and the task at hand feels overwhelming. Feels like déjà vu.

This week was a whirlwind of emotions. Any trip, especially one establishing new ground for Team Broken Earth, is always filled with adventure, uncertainty, challenges, and rewards. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This trip to Nicaragua was similar in its experience, but different in that the emotions were magnified with a background lens of hurricane Matthew and our friends in Haiti.

The clinic in Nicaragua was a huge success. We treated over 200 patients a day. The partnership with the Lions Club and the vision clinic changed lives at a rate of 100 per day. Attached to the clinic was an orphanage-style home for the blind children of Chinandega, where there were 10 full time children being taught how to use brail, play instruments, and given a safe place to live, learn and grow.

At the hospital, there was a special moment when an elderly lady came to have her eyes cared for with her daughter at her side. She had not seen her daughter clearly for years and after being assessed by the vision team, she was handed a pair of glasses and asked by her daughter if she could see. The woman cried, saying  through a translator, it was the first time she had seen her daughter clearly in years.  There was no need for translation, the tears of joy in each of them was enough for anyone in the room.

I remember someone once talking about the Butterfly Effect. I believe it’s about the origin of effect. That if a butterfly flaps its wing in Brazil, it can cause a Tornado across the globe. Or something. I’m the wrong kind of doctor for that question. But I wonder if the same can be said for the hope in the eyes of a patient? Can hope ripple across the globe? God I hope so.

The truth is a challenge for us all. The real tragedy in Haiti is that after the reporters leave and media reports settle, the real need will still be there. The news all day is all about the latest bombshell in the American election. Third story in on the news is how the death toll in Haiti is now over 900. I’m not sure what tiny thing sparked what would become hurricane Matthew. But the aftermath? I know it will be worse than I imagine.

As I sat in the sweltering, humid heat of Nicaragua, watching Broken Earth members place eye glasses on the face of a patient creating a smile, I could not help but think that this smile, this is hope, and that hope will, as Robert Kennedy suggested ripple throughout the world.  That despite the disaster in Haiti today, they will feel the ripple from the smile in Nicaragua for them well into the future.

The Haitian now struggling for food and water, battling cholera, and looking for shelter, needs that ripple to grow larger and quickly.  The family with nowhere to lay their heads tonight needs the ripple to hit them with greater force than Matthew. This is where we all can help.

Maybe the hurricane is a wakeup call. A reminder. Something that says we are all in this together. That yes, the need is again great. But the will to change it will always be greater.

-Andrew

Ps. Back on the ground now in St. John’s. Our team is scrambling to put an immediate mission together to go to Haiti. Can we count on your help? Please visit www.TeamBrokenEarth.com

 

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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When hearts grow heavy for Haiti.

I keep checking my phone to the point that I’m sure I’m annoying everyone around me. I can’t help it. I keep thinking “it’s a hurricane. Surely they saw it coming? Everyone’s safe right?” Knowing. Not knowing. I can’t tell which is worse.

Here in Nicaragua. The team has expanded beyond Haiti but, and I think I can speak for all of us, our hearts remain deeply rooted there.

Lately we’ve been working so hard on expanding our team’s reach. I just got back from an exploratory trip to Guatemala. The beauty of the place is overwhelming. Volcanic mountains, green with growth, with the threat of eruption underneath. It made for a breathtaking landscape.

We were looking at helping construct a school. The school will help educate children who have no means to be educated themselves. Some are orphans. Others are denied by the poverty they face.

We sat in the blistering heat, thinking about building new capacity in these incredible surroundings, listening to stories of the children and their families.  Some picked directly off the streets, others identified from broken homes and families. Now given an opportunity, a chance to build a future. We can help with that build.

Back home, my son started school the day before we left. There was never a question of if, rather when he would start. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons. We visited the most remote areas of the jungles of Guatemala, through small towns, over rough terrain and loose roads, through coffee plantations, up mountains with volcanoes smoking in the background. There we met a small community of people. Farmers eager to welcome us, show us their fields and their homes. These places are strapped together pieces of disposed sheet metal with dirt floors, no windows, bamboo struts and no electrical outlets. Yet as we walk into the huts, we are greeted with gifts. Like Haiti and Bangladesh, kindness supersedes processions.

I only returned home for two weeks before departing for Nicaragua. We were supposed to be in Haiti this week, supposed to be seeing patients we know, working with colleagues we love. Instead, we were advised six weeks ago that this would not be a good time to come. It was for security reasons. Little did the advisors know what was in store. But like Team Broken Earth often does, we pivoted quickly, finding another potential expansion location in Nicaragua. Fifteen of us travelled to Managua, then boarded a bus for Chinandega where we are helping provide badly needed medical care. Yesterday alone we saw over 200 patients, including a full vision clinic with the Newfoundland Lions Club.

However, something was not right.

Something was not sitting right. I could not focus, and found it hard to even connect with people. To be honest, my heart was in Port au Prince.

Hurricane Matthew is now bearing down on the people of Haiti, our friends, our colleagues, and our patients. Not nearly fully recovered from the devastation of 2010’s earthquake, now 6 years later an epic category 4 hurricane. Life is not fair. People living in tents should not have to face 1000mm of rain and 220km/h winds. It is not a fair fight.

I have been in touch with many of my friends and the hospital staff in Port au Prince but it provides little solace. It’s like hearing about a sick loved one on the phone in another country, your heart aches as your mind knows it is useless to help. I want to be with our Team Broken Earth family during this time but know that we dodged a very dangerous bullet.

The only thing to do is to carry on in Nicaragua, making a difference to those that would not have access to care. Strength returns in watching the pediatric team treat a very sick child with antibiotics. Or watching someone who had no previous access to care and not being able to see, walk out with a new pair of glasses, smiling and waving as they leave the hospital.

The solace comes with knowing that we will be there to help with the rebuild in Haiti as soon as the storm has passed. We have to be there.  We will be.

The solace comes through the hope that things will be ok and that we will be able to help. It’s who we are, as doctors and nurses, we want and need to help those in need. Despite the devastation, the people of Haiti are survivors. Yes, they will survive. They just need to know a hand will greet them when they reach. I want to be that hand. Don’t you?

– Andrew

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

When just a little is enough sometimes.

It has been a while since I have written a blog. To be honest, I had lost my appetite for it. It’s tough to admit but my motivation was and has been so challenged as of late.

Haiti. I despair that it’ll never catch a break. The lack of political stability there, although not making headlines anywhere, is so troubling. This is not a political blog. Won’t ever be. I believe Broken Earth is independent of political parties and elections, but we operate in an environment that is up to its neck in it. The patients we serve, as if they don’t have it hard enough, are drowning in it.

The sad truth for us is that we only move in this environment. We visit it a week at a time. I know this is a selfish view. Why? Because Haitians have to live with this every day. Haiti has not had a recognized election result this year.  Because of this, the country has been in a state of flux and without a democratically elected government for eight months now. Where’s the outrage? Can you imagine if Canada, the US, or other democratic governments in the international community were allowed to continue to control taxes, health care, and law and order this way? Somebody would say something for sure. But not here.

Of course this affects us very little at home. Other than the disruption of having to rearrange trips and move equipment, it is merely an inconvenience. But do we have a greater responsibility?  Are we not supposed to be advocates for our patients, for those in need? I had hoped the elections would come and go as they are supposed to and that the results would be sanctioned and that there would be no CNN headline, and no incident to warrant a report.

I was equally gutted with the deliberate, horrific attacks in Bangladesh and Istanbul. Broken Earth had recently stayed for a full week only a kilometer from where the Dhaka terror attack had happened. Dhaka is an immense city, a mega city, and despite its size and the mass of humanity, I had never felt unsafe. Crowded, yes, suffocated, yes, but never unsafe. The people of Dhaka, despite the hand they have been dealt, have gigantic hearts, and are some of the kindest people I have ever met.

The attack in Dhaka struck me hard. The attack on an airport in Turkey also caused me to pause and reflect on the madness that exists, the evil that is lurking. En route to Dhaka, we spend full days in that very international Turkish terminal, waiting for a connecting flight. The images on the TV were geographically familiar. Frightening and troubling but again seen through a selfish lens as I write this in the comfort of my home.

All of these near misses made me reflect and pause for thought.

I thought about stopping. I thought about quitting.

I thought about forgetting about it all and going back to just practicing orthopedic surgery in the comfort of St. John’s. But I can’t. Too many images in my head that together pick me up and carry me forward. The faces of the patient in the corridor in Haiti. The eyes of the young boy smiling in the streets of Dhaka.

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I won’t let this attitude defeat me. I can’t.

I think each of us carries a candle inside. Sometimes it flickers, grows weak. We all have to tend that light. It’s what keeps us going. If we’re lucky, it’ll burn bright enough for others. And they can see a little bit of hope. Just a little is enough sometimes.

Again and again I come back to the team for inspiration. Broken Earth is planning a full slate of missions for the fall in Haiti. We have had to postpone two and reroute one.  The one team I am a part of will be heading to Nicaragua instead of Port au Prince and hopefully light the flame of hope there as well.

We are also expanding our reach to Guatemala. I will be travelling there in September to hopefully set up a clinic, help lay the foundation to build a clinic, and establish the potential for future non-medical education to the impoverished people outside of Guatemala City.

In addition we are concentrating our efforts at home as well. We created what I hope is our first of many clinics to help new Canadians, starting with a free vision and hearing clinic. This will help our organization, our community and our country grow healthier and stronger together.

So although I have felt the squeeze of our troubled times, and though it may have exhausted my will, the exhaustion was short lived. Got a lot good people around me. A chorus of positive energy as a soft as a whisper but it’s all I need sometimes.

Best,

Andrew

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Small candles that burn in the darkest places.

It’s hard to fathom. I mean I’ve been to cities around the world but this is something immensely different. Dhaka is a city of 16-20 million people. It’s a mass of humanity that breathes and lives like one gigantic organism. There are areas with a density of 100,000 people per square kilometer. It continues to grow at an alarming rate of 4% per year with estimates of 25 million by 2025. It is considered to be the rickshaw capital of the world with approximately 400,000 rickshaws on the street every day. The city’s per capita income is about $3,100 per year, the lowest of the mega cities in the world.

Yet amongst the poverty and the density is a bright light. A candle of hope. Here, a modern day Mother Theresa exists… our hostess, Zahida.

They say one of the possible origins of the name Dhaka is from the hidden goddess Dhakeshwari. Well we may have found that hidden goddess in Zahida, the leader of our partner in Bangladesh, the SAJIDA Foundation. She welcomed us with open arms and beams with pride when she greets us at the airport and takes us for the tours of their operations.

We start with a visit with the low-income families SAJIDA provides business loans for. There are 10 families living in an area the size of two Tim Horton coffee shops.  A dozen or more woman are gathered in a small hut waiting for the finances and showing us products that they have made with funding from the business loan. It’s an impressive site. These are empowered women in a developing country.

We move then to the hospital and are greeted by familiar faces with big smiles. On the wall of the hospital is a big poster of Team Broken Earth and the SAJIDA Foundation working together during our last visit.

For a moment, it feels good to see how far we have come. But that lasts just a moment…

We move through the dense streets packed with cars, rickshaws and humanity piled on to each other. There is some order in this chaos. The traffic is so intense that it’s impossible to tell when you are moving and what direction you are inching in. Six lanes deep at times with not enough space to fit a playing card between the next vehicles. The temperature is north of 45 degrees with the humidity but we’re lucky to have some AC.

The final trip of the day is the most emotional. We went to visit the “pavement dwellers.” At best guess, there are over 40,000 of these unidentified, homeless, forgotten people. Many are children.  I have been to see them before, but this time is no easier. There is a lump in my throat that gets more intense as we walk into the building. On the first floor there are 20 or so adolescent males from 10-13 years old who are being taught basic life skills.  They wave and smile.  They are all orphans, and live on the streets with no government ID, no recognition that they even exist. In fact, if it wasn’t for our hosts, no one may know they exist at all.  They have no one and nothing to call their own, yet they smile and wave.  They will leave this building in an hour or so and go to the streets the same way any of our kids would head home after to school. These terrible streets are their homes. There’s a chill that comes with that realization.

We go upstairs to the next floor and there are dozens of 5-6 year olds who are all in one room, waiting for us. They have smiles as big as my 5-year-old son’s. They are there because they have been beaten, neglected, or abused. Some have single mothers who are working outside and will be back for them. Some of the young ones are able to stay over night. Others will have to leave and find a dry corner of pavement to lay their heads – if they’re lucky. Lucky. There’s that word again. There’s nothing lucky about this.

Five year olds. Orphaned. Abandoned and living on the street. Words cannot do justice to the feeling it creates deep inside of you. A combination of guilt, nervousness, anger, and grief. It’s just not right. We live in the shadow of such gigantic divides. We have to do better. I believe that we are all part of something bigger; we are all in this together. When a five year old lays her head on the pavement in Bangladesh at night, we should all feel it. When an adolescent boy cries for help and no one responds in the streets of Dhaka, we should hear it. Isn’t that what it means to be part of a global community?

The five year olds snap me out of it with a song. Five year olds are five year olds no matter where they are. Big smiles, and dancing carefree. It brings a smile to all of our faces. Despite the poverty, despite the fact that some will have to leave the building tonight and come back tomorrow they smile. There is something familiar about their smiles, their eyes. It’s more than childhood innocence. It’s hope. And in hope, they’re richer than any of us.

It has been six years since I first traveled to Haiti. Six years since a little girl’s smile changed my life. You may have heard me talk about her before. She was a girl of about twelve who lost her parents in the earthquake and was now the caregiver for her injured grandfather. She provided him with the care he needed. She walked him to the OR and waited patiently in the waiting areas while we fixed his hip. Then she shook my hand with a smile. She carried herself as someone way beyond her young years. It was that smile and the hope in her eyes that compelled me to act. You could see it in her eyes, hope. Hope that there would be better days. Hope that the world could and will be a better place. She would be a young woman now. I’m not sure much has changed, maybe it hasn’t. But more than anything, I want to believe she still has the courage to have that smile and, most importantly, that hope.

Yesterday was the first time in a while since I have seen those eyes and that hope in someone else. Despite the adversity, the poverty, the abuse, the chaos, a smile and eyes filled with hope. It’s a testament to people like Zahida, determined to make a difference. To keep that candle of hope burning. We can see it from here. It’s like a lantern. It guides us. It’s carried in the hearts of everyone on Team Broken Earth as we move inch-by-inch closer to the change we all hope is possible in this world.

Best,

Andrew

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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What’s broken will be mended.

I’m back here in Port-au-Prince but to be honest, my heart is somewhere else right now. Caught some of the remarkable footage of the fires ravaging Fort Mac, as we call it back home. Images of people literally running for their lives. Hard to look for the positive in the face of such bold tragedy. But look closer. It’s there. It’s in the countless stories of the generosity and courage of the people and communities that have stepped up to help. And you can always count on Canadians from coast to coast to drop everything to say, “what can we do?”

When I was choosing my specialty in medical school, I was drawn to orthopaedics because, to put it simply, when something was broken, you built a construct to put it back together.

Be strong Fort Mac. We’re all behind you. What’s broken will be mended.

We had two teams in Port-au-Prince this week.  The first was a clinical-teaching team from Vancouver. In addition to providing tireless medical care, this group found time to teach two courses in critical care and anesthesia to over 80 participants.  Their passion, empathy and professionalism were an inspiration to watch. I’m lucky for this. Lucky to be a first-hand witness to the growth of Broken Earth. To look from the outside in as another team makes us all so proud.

The second team was comprised of surgeons from Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.  We even had our first TBE volunteer from Australia. We taught over 60 participants in how to treat broken bones. We also had the privilege of meeting the Canadian Ambassador, who came to the course and even participated.

The course was a huge success. The lectures were followed by practical labs, placing plates and screws on bones. The most special part of this was seeing how we have improved on the course from two years ago. Imagine it. Young residents who took that course in 2014 are now helping teach the course to their juniors. That’s the truest reward for us.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit with Rudy. He’s a young man Dr. Steve Hunt operated on just 6 months ago. Rudy went from being shunned, teased and ostracized to now going to school, learning and reading. Just a regular student now. You gotta think/hope/pray that someone like Rudy may be the one who changes Haiti.

The Team Broken Earth family keeps growing. Barrie Ontario is sending their first team here tomorrow, taking over from the Vancouver team who will depart the same day. The work continues. It is not nor ever will be a quick fix. It’s a process. A hope. A dream to make this place a little less broken.

Best,

Andrew

Ps. Help support Fort Mac by giving to the Red Cross here and don’t miss Alan Doyle’s fundraiser coming up on May 12th at The Factory.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

From the Hill You Can See All the Way to Haiti.

There’s no more iconic image of Canada than Parliament Hill. I’m sure I’ve been by here a hundred times and it still never fails to give me goose bumps. It’s something about the history, or just that kinship you feel in the heart of the nation. Standing in front of the flame with the peace tower in the background, it is hard not to feel your heart grow with pride.

As I walked the steps it struck me that this monumental building is something more. It’s a beacon of hope to the rest of the world. I know that sounds grand. But I really feel that it’s true.

For me, this trip also doubled as a twist on “take your kid to work day.” This time, I was the kid and loving it.   We rarely get to see people we love and care for working at their jobs.  We hear about them, hear from others how they perform, but rarely do we get to experience first hand at this time in our lives! So proud to be here with dad.

It was also equally thrilling to meet Team Broken Earth’s Ottawa team members, some of whom I only knew by email addresses.   It was like meeting lost family relatives!

But now it’s down to work. I am not going to lie to you, speaking on the hill was nerve racking. But the strength of the collaboration with our partners in Haiti made it easier.

Meeting with the Haitian Ambassador and seeing the passion and commitment he has for the partnership with Canada was inspiring.  The relationship between Haiti and Team Broken Earth has grown from a few individuals providing emergency relief to the people of Port au Prince, to a Canada-wide team of over 1000 volunteers, providing medical care and education to the people of Haiti.

On behalf of our entire team, from Vancouver to St. John’s, I assured the ambassador and our audience that Team Broken Earth would do whatever was asked, whatever was required.

Together, Canada and Haiti can be an example of how collaboration can not only change the face of a desperate patient, but in fact a people and indeed the world.

Best,

Andrew

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Where we are going.

So my four year-old son, Mark, asks in the car last week, “how do people know where they are going?”

We tried to explain that there are maps, and he says: “no, how do they know where they are going?”

We try to explain there are schedules, and he says: “no, how do they know where they are going?”

There are routines, memories of direction, things to do?  No matter what answer we provided, he responded the same.  Frankly, his question stumped us.

So how do we know where we are going?

This week, we completed something I would have thought impossible two years ago, let alone five years after the earthquake… we conducted a full trauma simulation course in Port-au-Prince, one with all of the trimmings and expertise of any trauma course held anywhere in the world.

Team Broken Earth Experts from across Canada, teaching in a combination of didactic and simulation scenarios, the basic approach to trauma care and resuscitating trauma patients.

Trauma is the leading cause of years of life lost in the world, it dwarfs illnesses like HIV and TB combined.  It takes a perfectly healthy individual and within milliseconds with an incorrect turn in a car or a slip from a ladder, and changes their lives forever. The effects and impact of critically wounded patients is amplified in low and middle income countries, to the point where the World Health Organization and the UN are focusing on trauma in these countries.

We have scene first hand young men, women, and children die because there was inadequate treatment, supplies and skills.   Of course we take steps to correct that with each trip, but this trip is a huge leap in progress.

80 participants. Nurses and doctors, who need and want the skills to save lives, in a room listening intently and then so enthusiastic to get started. This will change the way hospitals here practice.  This one course will be a legacy of changing lives forever.

So I guess my answer to Mark and to all of you who have supported us, is this: I don’t know exactly where we are going, none of us can, but we are making a difference at stops along the way, and if the journey is more important than the destination, perhaps that is the purpose.

– Andrew

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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