West Tennessee Haiti Partnership

Haiti Report from Dr. Bheki Khumalo

June 14th, 2011
I would like to begin this report by thanking all of you for your prayers and support for the mission to Haiti. The people of Haiti are grateful for all the support and love we have shown them through the years especially after the recent disastrous earthquake. Our trip was a success. We traveled to Port-au-Prince without any difficulty. Our team from Memphis was joined by two others from the Red Thread organization. We hit the ground running in Haiti. I will mainly focus my report on the days we held clinic, with occasional digression to my observations of the mood of the people, the politics of the land, and the contrast between destructions and the beauty of the land.

Our team members consisted of the following people: Dr. Susan Nelson, our fearless team leader; Drew Woodruff; John Mutin, paramedic; Sherry Fairbanks, educator and sign language interpreter; Amy, physician’s assistant, and her daughter Hanna; Sienna Nelson; Wade Shields, physician’s assistant; Wes Savage, pharmacist; Nick Pesce, physical therapist; Sonya Yencer with the Red Thread; and myself.

We traveled safely to Port-au-Prince, arrived at the makeshift airport, were greeted and picked up by our gracious host, Father Sadoni, Rector of St. Vincent School. He shuttled us “Haiti style” to the guest house where we dropped our baggage and waited for our bunks to be set up. We rested that night. Next morning we went to St. Vincent to set up the pharmacy and the clinic to be ready for the next day. Driving through the rubble and collapsed structures was, in a strange way for me and my team members, a time of reflection and a strong reminder of why we were there—to help, heal the wounds, bring comfort and hope, to share the love of God in the midst of the turmoil and destruction that has affected so many lives of the people of Haiti.

Day one: When we arrived at the temporary St. Vincent School, the children and the staff were expecting us and it was a great reunion for those of us returning and a wonderful introduction to the new team members. We toured the new clinic and brace shop. We immediately began setting up for work. We actually began to work minutes after arriving. Our arrival date coincided with the clubfoot clinic and pediatric orthopedic physical therapy day. So, my friend Nick Pesce, the physical therapist, and I went to work immediately with Madame Michelle Bazelais, the veteran physical therapist and long time supporter of St Vincent. Our work consisted of evaluations of children with developmental issues and deformities. Most of the children this day were infants ranging in age from two months to two years; a few slightly older children were also seen on this clinic day. I helped Michelle with Ponsetti casting for clubfeet. I performed minor procedures to assist in the correction of clubfoot deformity. We helped with recommendations to improve the condition of the children. Recommendations included further consult with pediatric neurologist, orthopedics, bracing, physical therapy, medications, and in some cases nutrition. This was a very important day for it helped define future projects for St. Vincent.

Susan Nelson and her team also started working this day. Their work consisted of evaluating and treating children of St. Vincent as well as staff members. They dispensed medicines and vitamins and helped continue the work already in progress to keep the children healthy and nutritionally balanced.

Our second day began with our normal routine of morning preparation and transport to St. Vincent. As I stated in previous paragraphs, this always serves as a time of reflection as we drive through Haiti’s traffic, shanty towns with dilapidated buildings, and the hustle and bustle of the Haitian people. As we drive we take pictures of people, buildings, and everything around us which tells a remarkable story of the people and the land of many hills—their resilience, their hopes and their fears, all in a endless motion picture. This work day started with our usual set up and preparation for clinic. In contrast to the day before, Nick and I were consulting older children this session. These children had advanced deformities. Some of them were beyond rehabilitation. This was a major shift from our previous day with infants. Nick and I were challenged and disturbed by this day—we realized that these children were once like the babies we consulted the previous day. Lack of resources and their birth circumstances led them to these irreversible deformities. We talked at length amongst ourselves and with Michelle about what we can do to improve the lives of these children, and more importantly what we can do to keep the smaller children from deteriorating. Nick and I were charged and ready to work harder in helping the children at St. Vincent.

Dr. Nelson and her team, the pharmacy, and Drew were all engaged in various activities in clinic and out of clinic—St. Vincent was bustling with life. We all worked hard. Our drive back and our evening rest hours were full of stories and ideas to improve the health, education, and overall well-being for the children.

Between our clinics we had an opportunity to visit the countryside and beach areas of Haiti. The beauty of the mountains and waterside was like a rainbow at the end of long hard storm. Somehow, I was inspired and actually overwhelmed with a sense of hope for fractured Haiti.

On the political side, we witnessed the return of Betrand Aristide, which somehow posed a threat to the scheduled election. He came back from exile from South Africa and nothing of significance came of his return. There was heightened security and UN troops everywhere. The elections took place peacefully. I suppose this was a major disappointment to the critics of Haiti. We were elated that we were not going to be trapped in Haiti. We did however encounter a few groups at the guest house who were under evacuation orders from their US agencies on the eve of Aristide’s return and elections.

On our last day of work we were back working with infants. This time we were more vigilant than ever, noting every possible thing we can do to keep the infants from permanent deformities. We realized then that if we intervene now we can help save a lot of steps. Overall, our recommendations were to train ancillary staff people, including the older children, to help with mobilizing, physical manipulations, and stretching the smaller children; develop braces that will afford gradual correction without any need for surgery; fit children with walkers and wheelchairs that will keep them active and mobile as much as possible on a more frequent basis; and lastly, continue with our nutrition and vitamin program. (Many thanks to GSL for the vitamin donations!) In conclusion, we are hoping to decrease physical disability through therapy and bracing, improve overall health, and improve education for the children of St. Vincent. I hope that we are creating a self-sustaining environment that will keep the school going past our tenure.

Thank you for your support of this ministry that is near and dear to my heart.

“Mayibongwe Inkosi” ( Zulu for thanks be to God)

Bheki Khumalo

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