Updates from the field: A pediatrician returns from Haiti

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The funeral is for a female college student who was crushed in the earthquake.

Children’s-affiliated pediatrician Lester Hartman, MD, who runs a clinic in Haiti’s Central Plateau, made his way to the country within days of the earthquake to offer much-needed medical care. He returned home at yesterday and emailed us about the widespread destruction–and the accompanying resiliency of the Haitian people–that he witnessed firsthand.

Hartman sponsors three students in Haiti, all of whom were in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck. They were lucky to survive the quake, and returned to the capital city with Dr. Hartman to help with relief efforts.

My daughter Sarah and I are back- got home about midnight last night. Sarah was a huge help in all ways, but being close to fluent in Spanish ,while we spent much time trying to cross the border, was a huge help. Also a huge help was the Dominican pharmaceutical distributor who gave of thousands of dollars of meds, the civil defense team from the DR that crossed the border to help, and the director of HOPEH, Marline Olivier, a small woman with an amazing spirit who got the trucks, food and led us down the mountain (I nominated her for CNN Hero-she is sure mine).

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Dr. Hartman, his daughter and the Haitian students his family sponsors. After surviving the earthquake, the students returned to Port-au-Prince to help with relief efforts.

My focus is the people, not the destruction- there will be more of the physical devastation than you can imagine you can imagine. Let’s focus on the people. The three students our family sponsor saw death firsthand in Port-au-Prince. When I asked them to return to Port-au-Prince to help, they responded yes with no hesitation.

In the photo, the first person, from left to right, is Richardson, a high school student we sponsor, who dreams of a farm and a house. He calls my wife “Mom”.

Next is Paschal, who suffered the most. His university class in Port-au-Prince collapsed and he was sandwiched between 2nd and 3rd floor, with about a 18-24 inch crawl space. Twenty-three of 30 students died. He demonstrated courage by returning as a rescue worker with us! He is one of the smartest people I know and a most diligent student.The third is Jothson- he also calls my wife “Mom”. He was ill that day and missed his class, and all his classmates were killed.

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My wife’s cousin’s son, Nathan Bean, was perfect for myself and the Haitian kids. He was the essence of Patch Adam in a disaster, and had those three students, who had seen all the devastation, singing Bob Marley songs in the truck all the way down the mountain!

We walked through not even tent cities around the airport but rather bed sheet cities looking for pregnant women, young children, elder and ill people regardless of age.  We brought up 40 people. They will be housed in a closed public school (who knows when that will open), fed for now with the $4000 to $5000 worth of groceries and clothed. Today, there’s expected to be a second wave of people, as a team goes back down.

Massive destruction occurred as we got closer to the fault line along the mountains edges. It was almost like the earth was liquid and those buildings at the crest of a wave were flattened. That is all I want to say about the scene, as sadly I have seen  my hometown of New Orleans have “Katrina Disaster Tours” to the Lower Ninth Ward- which has not been rebuilt despite all the bluster.

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I’m proud to say our little team started delivering care and aid at about 141 hours from the time of the earthquake. But what I’m most impressed with is the resilience of this first free black republic. The Haitian people, while desperate, were gracious as we walked through these camps near the airport. It is their proud heritage that keeps them going and it will be that which rebuilds their country- a country which in its first 60 years was largely ignored by the US during slavery.

Give as much as  you can. Remember this will fade from memory when the press stops sending the headlines in the horribly devastated areas. When I visit New Orleans and Haiti, I see the parallel of aid workers going down to rebuild with the names of their aid organizations in bright green, blue or orange T-shirts.

I want to thank everyone for your support and prayers. Let these continue. Joy lies in the fight, the attempt, the suffering involved, not the victory (Gandhi). In my sadness, I find some of my greatest joy. Amen.