March 15, 2010

Haiti needs long-term commitment from all of us, Portland doctor says

Dr. Samuel Broaddus, director of the Division of Urology at Maine Medical Center, recently returned from a 10-day trip to Cap Haitien, Haiti, where he led a seven-person surgical team from Maine. He has been working with Portland-based Konbit Sante for years.

In Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, Konbit Sante volunteers work at Justinian Hospital and at a community health clinic in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Fort St. Michel. While Cap Haitien wasn’t damaged by the earthquake in January that destroyed Port-au-Prince 90 miles south, many wounded refugees have been arriving since the earthquake.
Excerpts from a recent letter are used with permission.

Dear friends,

I have been traveling to Haiti for 16 years as a medical volunteer. This is my 12th trip and many colleagues from Maine have asked me, with each passing year, if things will ever get better here. After the earthquake, no one has asked me that question. Haiti is a country that defies easy answers.

We often use the phrase “It’s complicated” to describe many aspects of Haitian life.

As I write this, I am sitting in the operating room at Justinian Hospital in Cap Haitien, listening to a 6-year-old burn victim in the adjacent surgery ward screaming in pain as her dressings are changed without the benefit of pain medication. Why? There are not enough of these drugs to go around to all the patients who need them. We ration care and we ration medications. Earlier in the week at supper, a colleague leaving for her return trip back to the States gave me a plastic bag filled with narcotic pain medications. “Trust me,” she said, “you’ll need these” and in fact, two days later, I did.

A medical system that was barely able to provide even basic services has now been strained beyond anything I have ever experienced working here. Mainers should be proud of what Portland-based Konbit Sante has accomplished over the past nine years, and particularly what it has accomplished over the past month.

They have 26 Haitian employees here in Cap. They also have more than 70 Maine volunteers with a wide variety of skill sets, who have partnered with Haitian colleagues in a unique model helping to maintain a fragile system of health care delivery.

Konbit Sante will play an increasingly important long-term role in Cap Haitien because it is an organization built on friendships, professionalism and collaboration. I know all the Haitian surgeons at Justinian Hospital by name. I know their families. They know my family. Some have been my houseguests in Gorham. We respect one another.

It is this type of friendship that will ultimately make a difference in how Haitians view foreigners, outside the glare of international media spotlights, and ultimately how health care will be improved, one small step at a time in Haiti.

There is a Haitian saying, “Little by little, the bird makes its nest.” It is descriptive of how I believe life and health will be improved here.

The Justinian Hospital, the largest hospital in the north, is busier than on my last trip. The wards are very crowded, particularly the surgical wards, 20 patients tightly packed in large rooms with no privacy. The emergency ward remains hectic; I haven’t seen any ambulances, just private transports.

Many of the ward patients have severe orthopedic injuries or fractures, and some have significant postoperative wound infections following field surgery in Port-au-Prince.  

Dr. Matt Camuso, our orthopedic surgeon, and his two assistants, Joanne LeBlanc, R.N., and Linda Ruterbories, A.N.P., have been partnering with the Haitian orthopedic surgeon Dr. Pierre Louis and have completed a number of complex orthopedic reconstructive surgeries. Matt brought a great deal of orthopedic surgical equipment donated by OA (Portland-based OA Centers for Orthopaedic Excellence) and MMC (Maine Medical Center) and has been integrating this into the OR inventory at Justinian.

(Continued on page 2)

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