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The earthquake hit on Jan. 12, 2010 at 4:53 p.m.
At a time when many families were sitting down to dinner, the 7.0-magnitude quake lasted just two minutes, forever altering the landscape and the people of Haiti. Killing thousands and injuring tens of thousands more, the disaster brought about immediate relief efforts from organizations and individuals around the world.
These efforts included staff from London Health Sciences Centre who have been donating their time, expertise and compassion to the worldwide relief efforts over the past four months.
Aric Rankin is an RN in the paediatric emergency department at Victoria Hospital, and is also a member of CMAT (Canadian Medical Assistance Teams), a non-profit organization that was started after the devastating 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami to provide emergency medical relief.
Less than one week after the Haiti earthquake, Rankin joined nine other members of his CMAT team and flew to the Dominican Republic, then boarded a 12-hour bus ride through the mountains to reach Léogâne, the city closest to the epicenter of the earthquake and one of the worst areas hit.
“We were the first medical team to arrive in Léogâne,” says Rankin, who presented slides and information from his mission to colleagues in early March. His team quickly set up their nine-bed mobile clinic, including a surgical suite, and began offering triage and medical services to hundreds of injured Haitians who would wait hours, even days to see a health care provider.
Treating spinal injuries, burns, fracture and wound management, the team worked with CMAT and military surgeons who performed dozens of amputations, “But we were also able to save a lot of limbs, too,” says Rankin. His team also provided screening for post-traumatic stress disorder, and recorded patient information for services they could not provide due to resources or clinical expertise.
Over their three weeks in Léogâne, Rankin says his team saw a transition from acute care to primary care, and with limited supplies and equipment (like no lead to protect themselves or the patient from X-rays), they improvised using critical thinking to guide the solution.
“It was all about improvisation,” says Rankin, explaining how his team would use a paper cup as an aero-chamber while chasing chickens out of the operating rooms.
“It was good to spend three weeks there, to see actual progress being made and to know that we were making a difference in the lives of those affected by this devastating natural disaster,” says Rankin.
Another LHSC staff member who is all too familiar with the difficulties faced by the Haitians is Maria Hardcastle, an RN on 6 inpatients (IP) at University Hospital (UH) who has been volunteering for the past five years at a medical clinic in Fort Liberté on the northeast coast of the island.
“The earthquake did so much damage but also brought attention to a country that has been in great need for many years,” she says.
This year, Hardcastle brought along four colleagues: her daughter Charleanne, a communications clerk on 6 IP; Sherri Barton and Laura Hodgins, both RNs on 6IP, and Hilreth Jackson, RN in Cardiac Surgery Recovery Unit.
While the town of Fort Liberté was not hit by the earthquake, its medical clinic swelled with approximately 1,000 refugees from Port-au-Prince who suffered from crush injuries, anxiety, and psychological trauma. Hardcastle and her team saw more than 1,500 people during a four and a half-day clinic.
“The whole country was impacted by the earthquake and will be for years to come,” says Hardcastle.
This sentiment is echoed by Brandon Duncan and James Atkinson, both RNs with the Nursing Reserve Unit who each recently spent two weeks in the JP/HRO camp with another CMAT unit.
Arriving three months after the earthquake, Duncan says there was still much to be done, including health teaching and treating basic needs like dehydration. He helped to deliver 17 babies born during his stay, and it was common practice for new mothers to name the baby after the person who helped with delivery. “There’s definitely a little Baby Brandon down there!” says Duncan with a laugh.
The JP/HRO camp is run by actor Sean Penn, and his celebrity draws others to Haiti to help raise awareness of the work that needs to be done. Duncan and Atkinson met Penn and others like Susan Sarandon, Gerard Butler, Demi Moore, Ben Stiller and Shakira. But meeting some of these Hollywood A-listers wasn’t what Duncan says was the highlight of his trip.
Instead, he loved helping to install water filtration systems in some of the most rural areas of Haiti, bringing clean drinking water to areas that needed it most. Atkinson also had a chance to do some non-medical work, helping coordinate the logistics of moving 5,000 people to higher ground before the rainy season hit.
“The Haitian people are very resilient,” says Duncan, who hopes to return to Haiti this summer. “They’re not used to much, but they make the best of everything.”
To all those who have donated their time and skills to helping the people of Haiti, LHSC acknowledges your living the values of respect, trust and collaboration beyond the walls of the hospital.