A group of Akron Children’s doctors, nurses and staff travel regularly to Haiti to help care for the sick children at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital. This post is the first installment of a 3-part series by Dr. Grace Smith, who gives a first-person account of her most recent medical mission trip there. Read part 2 and part 3.
As we flew into Haiti, the sunshine and palm trees at the Port au Prince airport beckoned us through the window.
I was traveling with Diane Momchilov-Beuker, a pediatric cardiac sonographer, and Carson Purnell, a fourth-year pre-med student from the University of Pittsburgh, to screen Haitian children for congenital heart disease. Our goal was to identify a small group that could be repaired later this year at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio.
Julien, from St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, escorted us from the airport to a condo compound guarded by 2 armed men. The compound is behind locked iron gates, and coiled barbed wire lines the top of the cement walls.
Each condo unit has 2 bedrooms, with 2 single beds each, a living room with 3 more single beds, and a bathroom. Since Haiti is in a malaria zone, the beds have mosquito nets. And, oh yeah, we had no hot water. Needless to say, we didn’t waste any time in the shower.
Bonding with other healthcare mission workers
Over dinner, we bonded with a visiting team from Duke University. They were working in Cite Soleil that day – a rough neighborhood in Port au Prince. While seeing patients in clinic that morning, a staccato of gunfire suddenly broke out near their window.
Chris, a young geriatrician with a flair for drama, said he dropped to the ground because “that’s what you’re supposed to do in the movies.” Their interpreter laughed, explaining that “it’s just gang warfare.”
In the outdoor dining area, we also met 2 recently graduated nurse midwives from Verona, Italy, and 2 third-year pediatric residents from Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, RI. The residents told us about 2 hospitalized babies they suspected had congenital heart disease.
One baby was a 2 month old with an abnormally slow heart rate of 60 beats per minute. The other was 9 months old and had a loud heart murmur and severe malnutrition. I promised to let them know what we found.