Fr. Scott Binet MD, MI
The mission continues here in Port au Prince after the terrible earthquake of January 12, a disaster whose effects reverberated throughout the world and that has devastated the country of Haiti. Here in the capital, Port au Prince, the destruction is still very apparent: every day we are confronted with people whose lives have been changed indefinitely: they are suffering because their homes have been destroyed, they are hungry and many are afflicted by an assortment of maladies. Yes, there are still significant needs.
CTF-SOS DRS together with our collaborators in the US and Europe – Camillian and nonCamillian – are trying to do our part to help a significant number of the victims of the earthquake. We were doing that even before I arrived on January 20, 2010.
Starting on January 13, 2010 the members of CTF Central – Brother Luca, Marco Iazzolino, Paolo Guarise and yours truly – started to meet everyday via SKYPE. We soon launched an emergency appeal for Haiti and also invited the members of the board of SOS DRS to the table in order to produce a coordinated response. The most important decision that came from these meetings was that Brother Luca and I – together with a group of volunteers – would make our way to the disaster site. For the CTF, this would be a new way of responding to a disaster: CTF Central together with SOS DRS would coordinate the response both on the ground and remotely from Rome – working together with our Camillian and nonCamillian partners.
Back to Haiti: while CTF Central and SOS DRS were organizing themselves, the Camillian response on the ground in Port au Prince had already started at Foyer St. Camille, the hospital run by the Camillians in Port au Prince.
The hospital was inundated immediately after the earthquake by people looking for a healthcare facility that was still standing. I was not there at the time, but I heard that there were “hundreds of patients everywhere – many hanging between life and death.”
The Camillian Sisters who coordinate the nursing services at the hospital [Sr. Dulce and Sr. Tipawan – both Camilliane ] and the Camillian Fathers [ Fr. GianFranco and Fr. Crescenzo from Italy (Piedmontese Province) and a whole series of Haitian Camillians – Fr. Richard and Verna and Robert] immediately started to respond to the presence of the victims of the earthquake.
In fact, these Camillians had been traumatized themselves by the earthquake – a reality that we should not forget.
The first wave of victims – after they were treated or transferred – was followed by a period of relative calm. However, it was a calm that was only a prelude to a more consistent and organized response to the disaster.
I arrived in Port au Prince from the Philippines on January 20th accompanied by Patrick Tomeny. Brother Luca came in from Italy on January 24. He was accompanied by Anita [a nurse from Ireland]
Marco Iazzolino and Fr. Paolo Guarise stayed in Italy and began to activate a network of collaborators – Camillian and not. They brought a variety of groups to the table, which soon became known as the “Earthquake in Haiti Camillian Roundtable” Present were members of CTF Central, the superiors of the Piedmontese Province of the Order, The Camillian Health Foundation, etc. Similarly, different governmental entities in Italy indicated their desire to collaborate with CTF Central and our Camillian confreres of the Piedmontese Province. Fr. Cipriano (the Provincial) and Fr. Antonio Menegon (a former provincial and someone who helped to begin the CTF in 2001) took the lead with them. Our possible collaborators were not few: Protezione Civile [the Italian version of FEMA]; representatives from various regions in Italy [Lazio, Lombardy, etc.], financial institutions, etc. And we were in touch with a series of Church entities as well – most notably Caritas Internationalis. Similarly, D’Ann Fisher and I together with other members of SOS DRS started to activate a network of collaborators in the US, after launching an appeal for support. Hand of Hope International was one of the earliest organizations to support our efforts. We were beginning to implement the intention of the CTF to coordinate the disaster response both on the ground and remotely.
Patrick Tomeny and I arrived one week into the disaster. We were the first CTF-SOS DRS members on the ground. Together with Fr. GianFranco, the hospital administrator, we activated an ambulance service whose purpose was to search for the wounded – those with lacerations, fractures or other significant injuries. We encountered many sick people the first day – 6 of whom Patrick brought to the hospital. The ambulance service continued after that. In fact, yesterday – February 4 – we went out for our 7th day of work. And this time we were accompanied by some journalists from Catholic News Service. Here is one of the stories. http://www.americancatholic.org/news/report.aspx?id=2199
As Patrick and I continued to work along with the sisters, fathers and a group of Haitian physicians and nurses, etc., the hospital started to fill up again with all sorts of people who were suffering from earthquake: patients with fractures, dehydration, head trauma, etc. At one point 75 of the beds were occupied. And many of these patients were of a new type: they had been operated upon at Foyer St. Camille or were soon going to be: we Camillians had brought in a group of Italian physicians with the help of a nearby hospital – Saint Damian’s [a work of the Fava Foundation in Italy and Our Little Brothers and Sisters].
From January 20 until the present, the Italian physicians and others who are from largely 4 countries – the US, Italy, Slovakia and Haiti – have offered medical services and operated on more than 60 people.
They have been helping earthquake victims by fixing fractures both internally and externally, performing skin grafts, draining abscesses, opening abdomens, delivering a baby in an emergency c-section, treating burn patients, changing dressings, performing cystostomies, suturing wounds, etc. The healthcare providers offering these services have been general and orthopedic surgeons, operating-room nurses, anesthesiologists, a family physician [yours truly] and a series of internists and generalists from Haiti – already on staff at Foyer St. Camille.
Life at the Camillian community continued during this time as well. Daily mass, adoration and praying of the rosary have been part of our routine. I even had the chance t concelebrate mass in Creole on the first Sunday after my arrival. We were in the main Church of the Foyer named Our Lady Health of the Sick.
Because I am interested in making connections with governmental and nongovernmental entities here in Port au Prince, we have been venturing out of the Foyer to go to the nearby hospital of our primary collaborator [St. Damien] and to meetings with Caritas International is and Caritas Haiti. We have also been visited by representatives of the Haitian Health Ministry, Italian governmental entities, the US military and other American organizations, etc. There is never a dull moment here at Foyer St. Camille during this disaster response!
In fact, the response is entering a new phase. There are still great needs, but they are somewhat different – particularly those that are healthcare-related. And our capacity to respond to other needs – for food, shelter, psychological trauma, etc. is increasing. We are seeing fewer acute fractures that need to be fixed and more patients whose initial treatment was insufficient and needs revision or who are in need post-op care and physiotherapy (amputation, head and back trauma, abscesses, etc.).
This new phase has come aboout with the passage of time and the explicit desire of several entities to find beds for their post-op patients. These include the USS Comfort; St. Damien’s Hospital; the General Hospital in Port au Prince. The latter was destroyed in large part by the earthquake yet continued to function as best it could in the wake of the disaster. The total patients that need beds are more than a 1,000 and will continue to increase as relief entities leave Haiti.
Patrick and I were recently joined by Erinece, a Haitian who speaks Creole, French and English. He also has a medical formation [2 years in medical school]. Nancy, a collaborator of ours in Florida, sent us Erinece. For that we are thankful. He is a welcome member of the team and will be a very helpful assistant.
With the arrival of Brother Luca and my continued presence, CTF has been engaging the local community in regular meetings to discuss how the desire of the CTF to coordinate both the response on the ground and the collaborative efforts from Rome can come to fruition. We have been evaluating the needs of the people affected by the disaster; the desires and capacities of the community, and the ways to move forward with our response to the disaster – all while we are actually doing so in the healthcare sector. Living in the present and planning for the future is something that I am accustomed to doing in disasters.
Living in the present…. What does a day look like you might wonder? Well, Borther Luca and I are both early risers so we frequently find ourselves together in the provisional office by 5 AM. There we have a chance to answer e-mails, to write otherwise and to do some strategic planning for the day and near future. I usually also take a moment to visit certain patients in the early morning, particularly our most recent additions – those who have been operated upon and remain significanttly disabled. Mass has been at 6:30 AM lately because the seminarians are back. We celebrate in French and Creole. It is preceded by lauds. A short breakfast follows mass and then it is usually off to the wards for rounds on surgical and medical patients. 1-3 times per week we do an ambulance run to look for patients with significant injuries and wounds. And there are meetings and more meetings to attend as we plan the project and the various programs.
Brother Luca and I have been meeting with the community almost every evening for the last week. Our intent is to explore the development of our present relief effort and to have a specific project with a number of programs to implement.
This earthquake has presented significant challenges for us though, not only because of the magnitude of the disaster but because we are trying to involve the whole Haitian delegation of the Camillians, many collaborators and the Camillian Sisters. Thus we have many cooks in the kitchen and more than one recipe for how the cake should be baked! However, I am sure that the main cook coordinating the effort is Divine Providence . In the end ….all will be well. The project will move forward and we will continue to help many people in Haiti.
Please keep praying for them and for us. We all need it.