My reason for going to Haiti for two weeks in June, 1996, was to work with Tom Kessler, MD from Nashville, Tennessee and David Lutz, a Physician’s Assistant living and working in Haiti. Our goal was to share our medical and my dental skills. The intent was to further Dr. Kessler’s dental training and to train David so he could start extracting teeth as needed. We succeeded in both of these endeavors and more. We left David with instruments and supplies to start extracting teeth. We also brought him medical supplies.
Plenty will assess the situation in Haiti and see how Plenty can assist in development there. We will consider further medical and dental teams visiting Haiti, assisting a children’s hospital in Port-au-Prince, which also has an orphanage with handicapped children. Haiti has a serious problem with erosion of topsoil caused by deforestation and improper land management. Solar cookers might help ease the deforestation since much of it is the result of people’s need of fuel wood for cooking.
Haiti’s exploding population growth and limited resources make it a place where assistance is greatly needed and equally challenging to develop with a positive and long-term effect.
The preparation for doing medical and dental clinic was involved and extensive. It took one day to get all of our crew and supplies packed and ready to travel to the mountains above the town of Jérémie in western Haiti. We left early on Monday morning for the 10-12 mile trip, about 2 hours over bridges, through creek beds and over seriously pot-holed roads to get to our destination. It took the rest of that day to set up our living quarters and clinic site.
After dinner, we were settling down for the evening when a 17 year-old Haitian boy was brought to us because the word had spread through this mountain community that we were there. The young man had fallen off a truck and was covered with blood. After assessing his wounds and stabilizing him, it was decided to transport him to the hospital in Jérémie for further treatment. We gathered our gear, an interpreter, and the young man’s family members and traveled to the hospital, which took about one hour. The hospital serves approximately eighty thousand people but, when we arrived, the power was down. We went into the emergency room where there was a young man examining patients, and a woman carrying around a kerosene lamp without a globe for light. We had brought our flashlights and proceeded to further check the patient with the Haitian resident doctor who was awakened by the staff. The patient had severe lacerations to his head and face. His left eye was torn on the bottom lid. It had to be sutured in two places with sutures that the hospital did not have. There was no alcohol to clean a thermometer. The only running water was a cold trickle, and the room was hot, dark, and buzzing with mosquitoes. We decided to go to David’s house, which was nearby, to get the necessary supplies. We arrived back at the hospital to find the generator on, and we set to work. Tom sutured the patient with a small team assisting and watching. We think he was able to save the patient’s vision. I extracted the remaining parts of four teeth after administering proper anesthesia.
The first day of clinic, about 250 people showed up. I would go into the crowd and pick out the sickest people and those who needed teeth extracted and give them numbered cards. They would then register and pay approximately thirty cents U.S. for their visit. From his experience, David believed charging a nominal fee was more realistic than working for free. The Haitians respected what they paid for and would follow the doctor’s orders better. We also agreed to care for anyone who was too poor to pay. Most people paid, and this system worked well.
On one of our clinic days a father brought his baby daughter who had gotten a corn kernel lodged in her nostril, and he couldn’t dislodge it. Tom attempted to dislodge the corn with instruments but couldn’t. Eventually he remembered a simple solution. He instructed the father to close the other nostril and blow hard into his child’s mouth. Three blows later the piece of lodged corn, to everyone’s relief and amazement, came flying out and hit the floor.
During our visit to Haiti, we saw about 200 people, 130 for medical needs and the rest for dental needs. We saw numerous children with worms, ear infections, malnutrition, tuberculosis, impetigo, fevers of unknown origin, and dehydration resulting from diarrhea and vomiting. We extracted about 135 teeth from nearly 70 patients. We increased our medical and dental knowledge and got a look at the conditions in post-embargo Haiti. The U.S. embargo had cost the poorest of Haiti dearly. Fundamental improvements in food, sanitation, medical care, and housing must make a difference or people will continue to flee.