Struggle and hope: Children's staff reflect on the Haitian earthquake a year later

Photo by Geoff Bartlett

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that ravaged the island of Haiti, leaving 300,000 dead and over a million people homeless.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Children’s Hospital Boston Chief Executive Officer, James Mandell, MD, said that the hospital would continue to support the Haitian relief efforts, and this has proven to be the case. More than 50 staff have been to the island since last January – as recently as last month – with more scheduled to go in the coming months.

Conditions have been extremely difficult, with hurricanes, a deadly outbreak of cholera and riots making difficult work even harder. But Children’s staff have persevered. They’ve been in the pediatric ward, operating rooms, emergency ward and ICU. They’ve delivered babies immediately after the disaster, taken care of the sick and injured aboard the USNS Comfort, helped young amputees learn to walk again, connected school children across an ocean and have done training here at Children’s that they hope will help improve the care they deliver in the next disaster they’re called to help with.

There’s been national media coverage of their efforts, and we’ve chronicled their stories here on Thrive throughout the year, but today we hear from some of them in their own words, a year after the quake, about what they saw, what they learned and what their hopes are for the country.

Have you been to Haiti and have a story to share? Do you have thoughts about Haiti on this one-year anniversary, and how the world can continue to help the impoverished nation get up off its knees. Leave stories, comments and hopes in the comments section below.

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Anne Stack, MD

“I was very thankful for the opportunity to provide medical care in Haiti in January of 2010. For me personally, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I hope I was able to make a difference for the individual patients for whom I cared. The ongoing needs are almost overwhelming. It is my hope that Children’s will continue to support the Haitian people in a substantive and lasting way, using the depth of resources we are lucky enough to have to develop academic, educational and clinical support for the people of Haiti.”

Anne Stack, MD

Clinical Chief, Division of Emergency Medicine

Children’s Hospital Boston


Dennis Rosen, MD

“I was in Haiti twice in the aftermath of the earthquake, in May and in November, and both times were very emotionally intense. On the one hand, it was extremely gratifying because everything we did there, no matter how small it may have seemed, had a big impact on someone else’s life.

On the other, it was tremendously frustrating to watch children die of severe malnutrition or diseases such as diphtheria, which are both preventable and almost nonexistent here in the United States. My experiences there reminded me why I went into medicine in the first place, and I hope to continue to have opportunities to do this kind of work going forward.”

Read a post from Dr. Rosen about his most recent trip to Haiti.

Dennis Rosen, MD

Division of Respiratory Diseases

Children’s Hospital Boston

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Johanne Jocelyn, RN

“Although it has been a year since the Earthquake, for the Haitian people, my own people, it is still very relevant news. There are people who are still living under tents. There are people who are presently dying of hunger. There are people who are suffering and in need of the most basic humanitarian care.

I went to Haiti in January and in March, in collaboration with PIH (Partners in Health). It was one of the most important decisions of my life, but in the end, going to Haiti or providing aid in whatever way you can isn’t about you, it is about reaching out to people in desperate need of your help.”

*To see a video of Johanne speaking about her time in Haiti, please click here.

Johanne Jocelyn, RN

Surgical Technologist, BLS Instructor

Children’s Hospital Boston

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Photo by Geoff Bartlett

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Michael Felber, RN

“I went to Haiti for 11 days in March, working a night shift in a tent in Port-au-Prince before flying home the next morning.

Since coming home not a day goes by where I don’t remember what I saw there. I think about the raw power of the earthquake and I remember faces and stories I heard and saw. I also know that I saw only a tiny fraction of it. There is so much unfinished work there.”

Michael Felber, RN

Staff Nurse, Surgical programs

Children’s Hospital Boston

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Craig McClain, MD, MPH

“I was able to go work in Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake last year. I have also had to opportunity to return to Haiti in March of last year, and will go again this upcoming February. It is a bit of a struggle to put into a few sentences the big picture. I have spent time working in poor parts of the world, but had never seen such a cataclysmic event overlaid on such abject poverty.

I cannot begin to imagine how the people that lived through the quake felt. I’m very glad we went, and continue to go. I truly believe it is absolutely the right thing to do. However, it seems like a constant uphill battle. There is just so much that needs to be done; it seems overwhelming. I feel like we’re simply fighting windmills down there.

Then I think about the individuals that we have been able to do something for and I feel like, when the overall situation is viewed through that lens, there’s a glimmer of hope.

There’s a quote that hangs near one of the entrances at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital that says, “Service to society is the rent we pay for living on this planet.” I hope that as individuals and institutions we take such sentiment to heart and continue, despite the current situation, to invest our efforts in doing what we can to improve the lives of others. If we can continue down that path, then I think what we did in Port au Prince will have been successful.”

Craig McClain, MD, MPH

Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine

Children’s Hospital Boston

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Nelson Aquino, RN

As I reflect back at the year that’s passed since the earthquake in Haiti, what I remember most is the resilience of the people who endured the devastation. I wonder what their lives have been like since we last met and if the many we cared for are still alive.

During this last year, despite all the chaos, I am so impressed by how giving everyone has been in volunteering what they can, listening and sharing their stories is so important because that way we ensure that we never forget the struggle and power of the Haitian people.

I hope we continue our relief efforts in Haiti, and together we can bring stability and hope to Haitian people.

Nelson Aquino, RN

Staff Nurse

Children’s Hospital Boston

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“When I was in Haiti I experienced some of earthquake aftershocks that were so violent they brought me to tears. I can’t even imagine how horribly scary the actual earthquake was for the Haitian people. Despite it all, during my time on the island I was taken aback by how kind, strong, welcoming and thankful the people of Haiti were and after living through such a tragedy.

The day after I got home from Haiti the bathtub in my new house overflowed. My husband saw the water spilling everywhere and got very upset. It was an inconvenience, but after seeing what I had seen in Haiti I realized how inconsequential it really was. As we mopped up the mess I told him, “At least we have clean running water. We don’t live in a tent and our family is alive and healthy.”

My outlook on life has been very different since returning. I hate to complain and I feel so much more thankful for everything I have.”

Kate (Anastasio) Becla, BSN, RN, RRT, CCRN

Staff Nurse II Med/Surg ICU

Champs SME/Eclipsys Resource

Children’s Hospital Boston

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Michael Agus, MD

“My two weeks at the University Hospital in Port-au-Prince allowed me to understand both the extraordinary gap that has developed between rich and poor countries and the remarkable desire on the part of the richer countries to help rebuild the shattered country of Haiti.

Since I’ve been back in our elite hospital, I struggled with the idea that we spend so many resources on improving what is already an outstanding care delivery system in the US. I came to understand, however, that American achievements, breakthroughs, and even expenditures are exactly what are necessary to drive improvements throughout the world, including underprivileged societies such as Haiti.”

Michael Agus, MD

Director of Medicine Critical Care program

Children’s Hospital Boston

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James Sheard and Shannon Manzi in Haiti immediately after last year's earthquake. Credit: Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

“For so many reasons, my deployment to Haiti was a life-altering experience for me. Our DMAT team proved once again that we can deploy anywhere, in any conditions and literally build something out of nothing. I am extraordinarily proud of my team members and what we are able to accomplish, but more importantly I am proud of the people of Haiti. They have continued to show resilience in the face of unheard of tragedy, political corruption, infectious disease outbreaks and deplorable living conditions. May 2011 bring hope, health and progress to the people of Haiti.”

Shannon Manzi, PharmD

Pharmacist and member of Children’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT)

Children’s Hospital Boston

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David Mooney, MD, MPH

“It’s hard to imagine that it’s been a year already since the earthquake in Haiti.  It’s not hard to imagine that the past year has brought a string of new crises to Haitians, drawing their lives down to a desperate new low. We have seen well intended relief workers labor against the chaos of a country which prays for a functioning government, something that many of our citizens railed against so recently.  We have witnessed celebrity samaritans stage helicopter-in photo-ops with freshly costumed starving children whose new playground is the otherwise undisturbed rubble of last year’s school, and hardscrabble true angels jailed on charges based more on voodoo than logic.

In the background, behind whatever media clamor is left, life goes on.  Every day Haitians find food, look for work, love their families and try to improve their condition.  Some days these simple things just happen for them, other days their challenges seem and are insurmountable.  ‘I’m still here’ is how Haitians respond when asked how they’re doing.”

David Mooney, MD, MPH

Department of Surgery

Children’s Hospital Boston

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John Mera, MD

“We arrived eight days after the earthquake, and chaos still reigned. Our team, and several others from across the county, met at National University Hospital in Port-au-Prince, which, for the most part, had no cohesive O.R. or health delivery system. Combined we treated many different patients, for a range of conditions, including a 4-hour-old newborn for severe rectal bleeding. Coming home was odd— a most unusual contrast. I went from a country without enough of anything to one with too much of everything.  There aren’t too many things about which we have a right to get upset. As human beings, we all—particularly physicians and surgeons—have a debt to the rest of humanity, to give something back. Go to Haiti and help. They still need you.”

*Taken, in part, from the journal American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

John Meara, MD, MDM, BMA

Department of Plastic Surgery

Children’s Hospital Boston

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Joy Banks, RN, BSN

“My group arrived the morning after hurricane Tomas and the ensuing Cholera outbreak that reached Port Au Prince. I met Reina on my second day; she was a preteen in the ICU who was thought to have Guillian Barre. Our team was able to wean her from sedation in order to give her intense physical therapy and respiratory ventilation weaning. Physical therapy consisted of constant range of motion and stretches but more importantly, dancing! We danced everyday all day long.

While I shimmied around the ICU, she wiggled whatever she could and smiled around her breathing tube. Since coming home I’ve heard from her and her family sporadically, through email, and around her birthday I sent her an Ipod with music that she liked so she could keep dancing. Despite the language barrier we still keep in touch, and though life has not been easy, I know Reina is still dancing.”

Joy Banks, RN, BSN

Medicine Critical Care program

Children’s Hospital Boston

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One thought on “Struggle and hope: Children's staff reflect on the Haitian earthquake a year later

  1. What a great tribute to our Children’s community and a wonderful promise for the future partnership with the people of Haiti.
    fr bob, chaplain

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