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Healing hands lend help in Haiti

Posted: December 19, 2010 4:48 a.m.
Updated: December 19, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Volunteers Emma Barker, Dr. Darrin Privett, Jessica Bruckschwaiger and Cathy Spaid from Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital stand with a group of Haitians during their December trip. The group went to help fight a cholera outbreak that has sickened more than 100,000 people, according to recent estimates from Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health...



hen the airplane with the medical team from Santa Clarita landed in Haiti, nurse Emma Barker said she was amazed by the colorful island landscapes.

“This is beautiful!” she thought to herself.

Then members of the team hit the road to reach the rural clinic where they were to help local people fight a cholera outbreak. That’s when “the colors” changed.

“The rush of reality hit us,” she said.

Barker described the hospital where they worked: a small, run-down building with no ventilation, tents filled with cots set up anywhere possible, buckets of vomit and feces, dozens of sick people with their family members next to them.

Poverty and suffering were everywhere.

Beside Barker, three other staff members from Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital left the United State on Dec. 3 to help with the cholera outbreak: nurses Jessica Bruckschwaiger and Cathy Spaid, and Dr. Darrin Privett.

With a nurse from Orange County, they formed “Team Mayo” (named for the hospital) and volunteered for the weeklong medical mission set up by the disaster relief organization Hope Force International.

The hospital where they worked was run by Medical Teams International, a Christian nonprofit humanitarian organization that set out to help in Haiti.

“When we arrived (at) the hospital, there were about 80 to 90 patients, and we thought it was packed,” Barker said. “At one point, there were over 120 people. It was crazy.”

“We saw about 100 to 150 people a day,” Dr. Privett said.

Team members worked 12-hour shifts six days a week.

Each day, 10 to 15 patients who arrived at the hospital would be nearly dead. However, only two people died during their mission. Even those losses were very difficult for the staff.

“It was frustrating. You have all of those skills, but without the resources, there is only that much you could do. ...” Dr. Privett said.

“Two patients that had died would have probably lived if they were in the U.S.,” Barker said.

The hospital with “white nurses,” as local residents called them, was the only hope for many dying people. Some Haitians would carry their sick family members for six hours to get them to the clinic.

Then they would stay day and night next to them, taking care of their loved ones amid the misery and sickness.

“They have really tight family units. They are such loving people,” Barker said.

Living conditions for Team Mayo were not as bad as they expected. They stayed in a small compound that used to be part of a Christian mission. Each of them had a bed with a mosquito net over it.

They had electricity until about 11 p.m. daily. However, they had no access to hot water the entire trip.

Their accommodations were first-class compared to the way local people lived. Most of their patients lived in small huts with no electricity and no access to clean water.

“There is no basic sanitation,” Barker said. “They live in devastating conditions.”

An important part of their jobs while in Haiti was teaching residents to boil their water, cook their food and wash their hands, Barker said.

“We explained to them where the infections come from.”

In return, they received a great deal of appreciation.

“Haitians are the most grateful people,” Barker said.

Getting out of the island was not easy. When it was time to go, the country was blazing with riots and rebellions.

Team Mayo was supposed to leave Haiti Dec. 10, but all flights were canceled.

The next day, the United Nations was able to send a small plane that transported them to the Dominican Republic, but they missed a connecting flight and were stranded one more night. The team made it out Dec. 12.

“We felt very much out of control,” Barker said.

Each member of the Team Mayo paid at least $1,400 to make the trip.

They were able to raise some funds, and Grace Baptist Church made a generous donation. However, they still have to raise more just to be reimbursed for the trip.

Back home, Newhall Memorial staff covered 13 shifts to let Team Mayo go. The hospital donated 10 duffel bags of medical supplies.

“Everybody came together and helped,” Barker said.

“The trip was an incredible experience,” Bruckschwaiger said. “It alters your perspective in life.

“I leaned that we need to take care of each other, to love everybody, not only your family,” Bruckschwaiger said.

“We take so much for granted. I hope I can change that in my life.”



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