FORT LIBERTE, Haiti-— Howard University physicians and medical students began the first day of a week-long medical mission June 26, and as they arrived early for the first day of surgery and other medical care, they were greeted by a sea of humanity, impoverished Haitians who have been waiting desperately for them to arrive and deliver care.

Under the sweltering sun, old women, mothers with babies, sick men and entire families pushed, shoved and shouted to make sure they could get to see a doctor.

Some had been waiting for hours, arriving at 4 a.m., four and a half hours before the physicians showed. Others had come a day earlier from nearby towns to have medical care for conditions they have suffered with for months, some for more than a year.

“I’m amazed that they have been able to live their daily lives with some of the diseases they have,” said Kim Ann Dang, a Howard medical student who spent her first day treating children as part of the makeshift pediatrics unit at a local school.

At the Fort Liberte Hospital, Howard medical students Theron Williams, Brian Rogers, Thomas Nguyen, Bruce Reaves and Ann Hardy-Henry worked with volunteer surgeons, Dr. Bill Lois and Dr. Guny Gabriel, both with the Kingsbrook Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Dr. Anthony Watkins, of New York Presbyterian Columbia Hospital in Manhattan, N.Y.

They repaired a cleft palette on a small child, fixed hernias, removed cysts, removed hemorrhoids and made two caesarian deliveries.

The 30-plus member Howard delegation is part of a larger group sponsored by the New York Chapter of the National Organization for the Advancement and the Haitian American Alliance. Dr. Shelly McDonald-Pinkett, interim chair of the Department of Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital, arranged Howard’s portion of the medical mission.

She spent the day seeing scores of patient, aided by medical students Marcee McRae, Ashley Pinette and Bolanle Abayomi, in the Internal Medicine Department she and the students had set up in a corner of the local school. They came in with a wide range of maladies, hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, rashes, infections and various other diseases

“I think I saw 150 patients today,” she said

Abayomi said she simply lost count of the number of patients.

“They just kept coming and coming,” she said.

Like all of the medical team members, they were exhausted at the end of the day from the workload and the challenging working conditions. The school has no electricity or water.

In another part of the school, Dr. Onyinye Onyekwere, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Medicine Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital, oversaw all care for children for the mission.

She said she saw skin infections, kidney disorders, a hernia, broken arm, ringworm, vaginitis, cloudiness of the eyes and small growths in the children’s eyes.

“A lot of the problems are associated with malnutrition,” Onyekwere said. “For example, most of the children were generally small for their ages, and that’s usually because of poor diet.”

Most of the students and the College of Medicine faculty said they came to Haiti simply because they wanted to help.

Dr. Rachel Jeanty, 32, a resident in Internal Medicine at Howard University Hospital, said her trip is part of her plan to do global health care.

“Being from Haiti, one of the reasons that I chose medicine was so I can help,” Jeanty said.

Earl Brewley Jr., 25, a fourth-year medical student, said the mission completes a circle for him.

“To fund my undergraduate education in St. John, Virgin Islands, I worked as a barber,” Brewley said. “Most of my clients were Haitians. They told me how tough it was for them in their country.”

“I saw many individuals, some who came to the Virgin Islands illegally, who didn’t have insurance and who had medical conditions that could have been easily treated, but they didn’t have the means,” Brewley Jr. added. “Now, I have the ability to give back to the individuals who gave so much to me.”

Click here for a related article on the Howard Faculty and Student Mission to Haiti


Ron Harris

Special to the AFRO