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The origins of inspiration and how it constantly redefines itself.

I get asked one question a lot: “where do you get your inspiration?”

I find it a little tough to answer. Maybe not so much answer but narrow down. I’ve been blessed to know, work with, learn from and listen to some truly inspiring people and organizations. Sometimes I just don’t have the words. It’s Thanksgiving in the States this week. I’m here with Allison and the kids visiting her parents on the West Coast. There’s a lot of love around. A lot to be thankful for these days. It’s good to pause and inventory our gratitude and inspirations.

In the wake of the devastating hurricane in Haiti, Team Broken Earth was immediately committed to respond and make a difference in the relief effort. But we didn’t know what that effort would look like or what would be involved. We were asked before the storm even landed to begin to assemble a team. I didn’t know what to expect or who we would need. Felt like déjà vu.

Quickly the local team in Haiti, working 24-hr days, made an assessment of what the needs would be. We made some quick decisions. Figured out what skills were needed to go but had no idea if we could meet the last minute emergency demands. This was so stressful. In this hour of need, none of us wanted to let the people of Haiti down.

Turns out, in true Broken Earth fashion, all we had to do was ask. With one email to our national family, we had what we needed to set out and answer the call for help. Flying into the middle of a natural disaster was not going to be easy. But our members rose to the occasion and stood out as a force that was able to partner with others and see over 4000 patients.

These are the true heroes. The very best inspiration. Our volunteers from coast to coast, a true Canadian effort, were welcomed in the town of Jeremie, a devastated community on the South West coast of Haiti in the path of the eye of the hurricane. They were celebrated as being front and center in the relief effort. Our volunteers took a leap of faith, answering a call for help, walking into the unknown with one purpose: to help.

Heroes walk among us everyday. This is where I get my inspiration.

People like Jim Maher, who step up and leave work and his family on a moments notice, risking his own health and safety to help the people of Haiti. Why does he do it? It’s not because it is a part of his job, not because he is getting paid overtime, not for fame or accolades, but because he can. And he’s not alone.

Inspiration is all around us.

Amid all that’s going on, from the election in Haiti to continuing to organize our expansion team, I received a message from a parent at my children’s school. She asked it if it was ok if her daughter for her ninth birthday party could announce to her friends that, in lieu of gifts, could they please bring articles of clothing for Haiti. A random child turning nine. And she’s offering not just to help but to sacrifice her own birthday gifts to help those in need. Think to when you were nine. I know I would not have been so altruistic. This is beyond inspirational, this is a legacy that we may be creating. Helping to instil in our future generations the sense of social responsibility and appreciation that we are part of a global family. The hope of a little girl to change the world, that’s inspiration.

But that’s the funny thing about inspiration. It’s constantly changing. It continually redefines itself and what it means to you. I’m always curious what it’ll be next. Where I’ll see it. What it’ll mean. Just recently our team has expanded within the province of Newfoundland with our first team from the West Coast now on the ground in Haiti. I once thought that having teams from across the country would be our ultimate goal.

But inspiration knows no borders.

I was offered to come and speak at the University of Massachusetts. The common goal of global healthcare and medical care for those who need it most, knows no boundaries. It was exciting to be speaking with specialists, surgeons, anesthesia, gynecologists, and medical students about how we can collaborate, how we can work together to make a sustainable difference. A humbling, inspiring event using the podium of U Mass to launch a Broken Earth chapter south of the border. To think of how far we have come. To have people from other countries, from celebrated institutions interested in what we are doing and how they can be involved, that is inspiring.

Lastly, inspiration often comes from unsung heroes. People like our sponsors. They are always there for us, always offering, always asking how to help.

Keith Bradbury, when approached for help, immediately assumed the cost of rooms for our recent trip to Nicaragua. Although we do our best to thank them, it is hard to give them the thanks they deserve. Whether it is M5 , Columbus, Rogers, Air Canada, Stryker, Zimmer, Depuy, the Lions Club or many, many more. From restaurants (Blue, Raymond’s, Mallard Cottage, Tavola, Get Stuffed, and many more) to entertainment (Alan Doyle, Great Big Sea, The Once, The Fortunate Ones, Cory Tetford and many more) we have been lucky. The people in the background often get overlooked, those who move the machine at home so we can function on the ground away (Nakita, Susan, Meghan, Mary, Allison and many more). Where do we find our inspiration? From the companies and individuals that make a difference and many more.

I set out to answer the simple question of inspiration and motivation. Turns out it is easier than I thought: inspiration is everywhere.

Best,

Andrew

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Posted by on November 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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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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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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