Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Friend Offers Hope & Help To Haiti

Earlier this month I lost the guy who installs my air-conditioners for me in the summer, plows the snow off the driveway for me in the winter, and watches Tesla and the house for me when I'm out traipsing around various parts of New England. I lost him for almost a week while he traveled over to Haiti to help out those who are most certainly more in need of his services than myself.

Valentina, Monika, Manni (ICU nurses from Italy) and Andrew
Andrew, one of the paramedics I work with at American Ambulance, was part of a medical team led by Dr. Anthony Alessi of The William W. Backus Hospital that flew over to Haiti on January 9th to spend five days treating cholera patients.  The Backus Haiti Relief Team put their skills to work at the Saint Philomena Rehydration Center which is run by Father Rick Frechette as part of The Saint Luke Foundation for Haiti.  Father Rick is a Passionist priest originally from Wethersfield, Connecticut who went on to get a medical degree so that he could minister to not just a person's spiritual health but to his or her physical health also; you can read more about Father Rick here if you'd like.

Father Rick talks to Conan, his "right-hand man"
Norwich has a very large Haitian population and a lot of aid has been sent over to the decimated island since the January 12th, 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 people; aid which has included the work of Norwich's Dr. Jeremiah Lowney and his Haitian Health Foundation as well as numerous trips by Dr. Alessi, a board certified neurologist and medical director of the William W. Backus Hospital Stroke Center. When Fred Potter, Coordinator of Emergency Medical Services at Backus Hospital, sent out an email for a group to be formed to travel to Haiti with Dr. Alessi to assist with the cholera epidemic that has broken out, Andrew knew that he wanted to be a part of that team but it wasn't until the original date to go was changed from December 8th to January 8th that he knew he would be going as that gave him time to get a passport and make preparations.

If you're lucky enough to know Andrew then you're lucky enough to know he's the type of guy who likes to help people so it really came as no surprise to me when he told me that he was going over to Haiti. Of course, I had to ask him why he chose to go and got the answer that I was expecting to hear, "I became a medic to help people and there is no one in the world who needs help more than the people of Port-au-Prince as they have absolutely nothing."  Even though this was going to be the first big separation of their marriage for Andrew and his wife Bethany (who is a nurse for the Plainfield Public School System), Bethany supported Andrew unconditionally in his choice to go over to Haiti for a week and provide what aid he could while she stayed home with their two children, AJ and Lea, and missed him every single minute of every single day.

Haitian neighborhood
But Andrew would tell you that this story isn't about him; he would tell you that it's about the people of Haiti who continue to suffer and live in abominable conditions a full year after the earthquake hit.  Millions of dollars have been raised for Haitian relief but for the people of Haiti, there's darned little relief at all as they continue to live in rubble and disorganization. It wasn't bad enough that there was a devastating earthquake but now there's an outbreak of cholera - a disease that isn't even indigent to Haiti. It was brought there by relief workers, care givers, and the military and then made worse by the rainy season.

Since October there have been over 2,000 cases of cholera - an infection of the small intestine that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that will quickly dehydrate its victims and lead to death if left untreated. The best treatment is with an oral rehydration solution but in severe cases intravenous (IV) fluids are a patient's best chance at survival and that's what the Backus Relief Team was there to do. As paramedics and registered nurses put in more IV's than doctors do, it was decided they would be the ones to make up the Relief Team and travel over with Dr. Alessi to assist Father Rick at the Saint Philomena Rehydration Center.

The Backus Haiti Relief Team
On January 9th the team which was made up of Registered Nurses Manuela Lescault, Cindy Arpin, Cassandra Gryczewski, and Charlotte Horton along with Paramedics Eddie Dubois, Kim Kirchberg-Schmitt, Fred Potter, and Andrew Duval flew from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Haiti where they then spent the next 3-1/2 days treating over 150 patients which were the sickest cholera patients that other missions and doctors couldn't take care of. According to Andrew, each patient needed anywhere from 4 liters of lacated ringers to 8 liters if they were really sick. If the patient was still vomiting after 8 liters, they would continue with the lactated ringers until the patient would finally stop vomiting. He said that it wasn't unusual for patients to need between 15 to 30 liters of IV fluids.

A typical room at Saint Philomena's where cholera patients were treated
Before he went over to Haiti, Andrew said that he thought he was pretty good at administering IVs - a skill that's got to be pretty tricky in the back of a jostling ambulance - but after seeing a few patients, he wasn't so sure about his skills anymore. He told me that he'd never done so many IOs (an intra-osseous infusion where the injection is made directly into the marrow of a bone) and EJs (an injection directly into the external jugular vein on the side of the neck) as he was unable to find veins anywhere else on a lot of the patients he saw. Even when he could "hit" a vein, it would oftentimes collapse before he was able to get enough fluids into the patient.

Even though Saint Philomena's has a death rate of less than 2%, not all of their patients survived in spite of the Team's best efforts to provide them with much-needed fluids; Andrew said that he knows of at least three that died while they were there. If there is no family to consult or if the family of the patient who has died wishes, their body is taken to the chapel located at Saint Luke's where a funeral mass is said the next morning. The patient's body bag is covered with a cloth that has been decorated with a cross or holy picture and flowers are placed on top. After the Mass they are cremated at the complex's own crematorium.

Preparing for a funeral in the chapel
In addition to treating the cholera patients that they saw everyday, the team spent some time visiting the children at Saint Damien Hospital which is the premiere pediatric hospital in Haiti that provides free high quality medical treatment to disadvantaged and sick children and is part of Father Rick's complex. Andrew said that all of the children were happy to see them as they handed out small toys like Matchbox cars and Silly Bandz. Andrew's daughter, Lea, had asked him to take one of her favorite dolls, Granny Garbanzo, with him to Haiti to give to a child who had no dolls so Andrew did just that making one little girl very happy in the process.

Granny Garbanzo gets a new owner
Andrew's son, AJ, had also sent over one of his toys in the hopes that it would make another child happy and it found a new owner, too, in the hands of the little boy below.

A gift from AJ to another sick child
On one of the days that the team was there they took a drive into Port-au-Prince and had a chance to view firsthand the devastation that the earthquake left behind.  Buildings are still piles of rubble and large tent cities are the home of many of the island's residents.

The remnants of the Cathedral of Notre Dame
The Ministry Building
The Presidential Palace
Part of the tent city across from the Palace with UN Peacekeeping Forces
Tent City on the grounds of the former park across from the Presidential Palace
Tents built up on top of rubble
Looking at these pictures, it's very easy to ask where on earth all of the money that was raised for Haiti has gone to as it sure doesn't look like it's gone to Haiti.  One year later and it certainly appears as if nothing at all has been done.  I get the distinct feeling that were it not for people like Father Rick and volunteers like those in the Backus Haiti Relief Team, the residents of Haiti would still not be getting any assistance at all.

Charlie, Sarah, Manni, Father Rick, Andrew, Eddie, Fred, Dr. Alessi, Cindy, Conan
Having witnessed the devastation firsthand, Andrew told me that there wasn't a single day that he was there that he didn't cry and that he also cried a lot on the plane trip back home, too.  The memories of all that he saw will stay with him forever and he hopes that perhaps he'll get the chance to go back and offer his help again.  I hope that if he ever does, he'll notice at least some sort of improvement to the living conditions.

If you'd like to see more of the pictures that Andrew took while he was in Haiti, please visit the Picasa Web Album where I have posted them for him. Some of the pictures don't have captions but hopefully you'll be able to tell what it is you're looking at. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them here in a comment and I will make sure that Andrew gets them. Also, if you'd like to help any of Father Rick's programs, please visit CompassionWeavers.com where you can find information on all of the programs at Saint Luke's.  Unlike the government of Haiti, Father Rick and his staff are doing something positive for the people of Haiti and I'm sure they'd appreciate any and all help.

In the meantime I'm going to continue to be very proud of my "handyman" and very, very honored to have him as a friend.  Andrew is definitely one of the good guys!

11 comments:

  1. Andrew is truly an incredible human being. How lucky you are to call him friend. I don't know how people cope with such devastation and suffering all around them. I'd be in a pool of tears the entire time. God bless you, Andrew, and everyone like you who volunteers their talents, services and time to help in such catastrophic situations.

    I just saw a photographic post on The Big Picture on Boston.com on the anniversary of the earthquake. I couldn't even look at all of the photos. Horrific.

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  2. great photos to see what is really happening there. i just have no words for the people that are stealing all that aid money and the corruption of this place. i am not sure it will ever be livable again. and now baby doc is back? holey moley...

    sigh, bee
    xoxoxoxoxoox

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  3. Andrew is an inspiration to all. He always has been, and I've been reading about him for a very long time. What a wonderful thing to do. It surely was heartbreaking as well. Would you tell him thank you for me.

    Have a terrific day Linda. Big hug. :)

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  4. Please pass on my thanks to Andrew for his work in Haiti, and to his wife for keeping the home fires burning in his absence. I am normally quite the optimist, but there was a big mess in Haiti long before the earthquake ever happened. With the government being so corrupt, I don't know how the country will ever recover. It is truly heartbreaking, especially for the children. I hate suffering of any kind.

    Big hugs, honey...

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  5. My oh my, Linda, what a wonderful essay about your friend and his work in Haiti. He has a place in heaven!

    Also thanks for playing CASH CABBIE on Facebook. I'll have another question tomorrow...

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  6. People like Andrew are an inspiration to us all.

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  7. The suffering is so heart breaking.

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  8. Here in Miami we also have a huge Haitian community and I personally have several "friends" that work there....it is a travesty and speaking just personally as a giver of funds..I know they may not have been much (what I gave) but I surely expected more. Your buddy is a hero as is all who work there and all of the relief efforts. I just wish I could do more and so admire those that do.

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  9. Bless Andrew and those who put their hearts on the line to help others who need them so desperately. I couldn't help but notice that in the photo where Andrew is holding that precious little girl, the fan behind him almost provides him with a halo! It fits, for sure....
    ~~~O'Reilly has been on a rant about the relief funds for Haiti going every where but where they should be going. If they let "Baby Doc" stick around, they're screwed.
    ~~~Blessings~~~

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  10. The world certainly does need more people like Andrew in it! I can imagine how hard it is to be over there a year after the devastating earthquake and to still see thousands still living in tents and to still see so much destruction. As you say, where did the money go? Millions and millions was raised, how come these people aren't getting their homes rebuilt at least? Love the pictures of Andrew with the little girl and his daughter's doll, as well as the little boy...something so simple as a toy can mean the world to them. Please tell Andrew "thank you" from the bottom of my heart for caring as he does. xoxo

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