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Helping Hands, Heavy Hearts in Haiti

Little by Little Haiti team members help an earthquake victim who showed up for care at the team’s home base, Mountain Top Ministries.

Therese Carlson, RN, BSN, doesn’t need to turn on a TV to see the despair that citizens of Haiti are in after a devastating earthquake struck the country Jan. 12.

All she has to do is close her eyes.

Carlson, a nurse at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Ill., was part of a group of 23 volunteers on a medical mission with Glenview, Ill.-based Little by Little Haiti that was in the country when the earthquake hit. For team members, who arrived safely home Jan. 16, the memories of their harrowing experiences won’t fade anytime soon.

“I do lay in bed at night and have flashbacks of faces and situations that we encountered that do wake me up,” said Carlson, who was joined on the trip by five Greater Chicago area nurse practitioners and four NP students from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing. “It’s hard to get them out of my head.”

Patients line up during a typical day at the health clinic in Gramothe, Haiti, that was staffed by volunteers from Glenview, Ill.-based Little by Little Haiti.

The team was based about 15 miles southeast of the capital city of Port-au-Prince at Mountain Top Ministries in Petionville and helped run a health clinic in the nearby mountain town of Gramothe.

In a span of five days before the earthquake, the team had seen more than 1,000 patients.

“We had worked for five solid days,” said Dawn Ribnek, CPNP, MS, a nurse practitioner at Lake Forest (Ill.) Pediatrics and a former ED nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago. The group helped scores of patients with gastrointestinal problems, skin infections and various ailments. “We were a caring-for-common-problems type of clinic,” said Sharon Feehan, FNP-B, DNP, who works at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “People would walk two or three days to get to us for a Tums or a Tylenol.”

As the group members walked home after the fifth day of running the clinic, their mission quickly changed.

“We were on our way back up a hill, and next to us there was a row of bushes, and they started shaking violently,” said Sara Kowalczuk, APN/C-NP, who works at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “We thought it was kids playing in the bushes.”

Team members from Little by Little Haiti walk down a mountain after a day of working in the health clinic.

A thunderous sound and the sight of large rocks falling down a nearby mountain followed.

“It was kind of hard to keep your balance,” said Tricia Wirth, RN, PNP, who works at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

The team hurried back to the home of their Mountain Top Ministries hosts, Willem and Beth Charles.

Team members who took an ATV to survey the damage discovered a local girl in a river bed with severe injuries incurred from falling rocks. Little by Little Haiti executive director Sue Walsh, RN, CPNP, MSN, a clinical instructor at UIC, performed CPR on the girl on the way to a local hospital, said team members, who soon learned the local 20-bed hospital with one doctor on staff desperately needed their help.

“We all have a helpful nature, or we wouldn’t have been there,” Feehan said.

The scene when they arrived at the hospital, however, was overwhelming. “When we walked into the hospital, there was this long hallway filled with people,” Wirth said. “They were reaching out to us asking for help.”

The severity of the injuries was something few on the team had seen. “We saw injuries like wide-open wounds that would need amputation and that’s the only way you’re going to fix it,” Ribnek said.

With few supplies and aftershocks rattling their nerves, team members provided care to more than 200 victims until approximately 1 a.m. For the next two days, victims showed up at the front gate of Mountain Top Ministries to receive care.

On Jan. 14, two days after the earthquake, the sounds from a local church wafted over the group as it cared for patients. The sounds were from funeral services for the young girl severly injured in the river bed.

“Overwhelming sadness is the only way to describe it,” Feehan said.

Barry Bottino is a regional editor for Nursing Spectrum.


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By | 2020-04-15T14:12:32-04:00 January 25th, 2010|Categories: Greater Chicago, Regional|0 Comments

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