Unhappy anniversary for DuPage doctors, nurses
A year after an earthquake devastated Haiti, CDH team discovers need has not diminished.
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Just outside a mango grove under the blazing sun, Dr. Melody Derrick and her colleagues treated survivors of the earthquake that devastated Haiti one year ago today.
The makeshift clinic consisted of card tables and plastic chairs. Medical supplies were limited to what the volunteers could cram into two 50-pound suitcases each.
The people waited patiently for hours to see a doctor.
There was the elderly woman who was so weak from dehydration that her family had to carry her to the clinic. The doctors started her on small sips of Pedialyte — the same drink parents in the U.S. give their vomiting toddlers.
"A few hours later, she felt great and got up and walked away," Derrick said.
A simple treatment, but nothing is simple or easy in Haiti, the Caribbean nation still recovering from the magnitude 7.0 quake.
Derrick was one of four doctors and three nurses affiliated with Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield who spent a week in Haiti in November, arriving just as five cases of cholera were confirmed in the rural area where they planned to set up mobile clinics.
The team was based in Leogane — the epicenter of the earthquake — about 20 miles west of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
From there, the team traveled into rural areas for four days of mobile clinics. The volunteers also visited two orphanages.
The CDH-sponsored team included Derrick, Dr. Kathleen Moline and Dr. Michelle Jao, all of Central DuPage Physician Group; Dr. Josh Cohen, a hospitalist at CDH, and CDH nurses Sandra Berger, Laurie Schlaman and Kim Stock. The group also included four nurses not affiliated with CDH.
In five days, they treated more than 750 patients.
"We were prepared for seeing a lot of wounds, but fortunately they are passed that stage as far as injuries from the earthquake itself," Derrick said.
Instead, the doctors saw the medical consequences of the destruction's aftermath: Families living in tents, cooking their food over burning trash, drinking water from streams shared with dogs and pigs and cows.
People came to the clinic suffering from malaria, fungal infections, stomach bugs, pneumonia, infected bug bites, respiratory illnesses, joint and muscle pain and high blood pressure.
"You give them as long a supply of medication as you can and hope another team will come along," Derrick said.
The team stayed in a residence hall set up by Notre Dame University. To see as many patients as possible, the doctors and nurses worked 10 hours a day in the 90-degree heat, then all evening organizing medical supplies for the next day.
Through it all, Derrick was struck by the spirit and graciousness of the Haitian people.
"They're very thankful for what we did for them. They were actually fairly happy people despite their very bad circumstances. I was always amazed that these people have practically nothing, and yet they always came to the clinic in nice clean clothes. They took pride in the way they looked, they took pride in the way their kids looked.
"The kids were the best part," added Derrick, who has an 18-month-old daughter herself. "The kids were happy and fun and excited to see us."
The plight of the children living in orphanages especially pulled at her heartstrings. The children are housed 20 to a room so small they have to sleep on top of each other. There are no beds. Some of their parents are still alive but simply can't afford to feed them.
"We saw two orphanages, and there are thousands of orphanages in Haiti," she said.
Derrick hopes to return to Haiti on another medical mission. And she asks everyone not to forget that Haiti is still in desperate need. Any donations to any organization helping people in Haiti will make a huge difference, she said.
One year after the quake, Haiti has the highest death rate and lowest life expectancy of 224 countries. Life expectancy at birth has fallen from 61 years to 30.
"What I'm afraid is going to happen is the people of Haiti will be forgotten and 10, 20 years down the road the buildings are still going to be in ruins," Derrick said.
"I think Haiti is going to need all kinds of help for many years to come."
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