A Heart for Haiti

A Heart for Haiti

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

A Heart for Haiti

It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.

Charles Dudley

My dream became reality when the Boeing 737 landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Fifteen years earlier, as a teenager, I’d come to this impoverished island on a mission trip. Ever since, I’d longed to return as a nurse to help these people with no access to quality health care.

I packed as many questions as clothes for this trip. Will we be safe? Where will we stay? As a pediatric and neonatal intensive care nurse, will I be able to assist in surgery? How will my family manage without me for a week? Can I really make a difference?

I quickly learned our hosts would keep us very safe. The Haitian pastor and his wife, who run Mountain Top Ministries, go the extra mile to put their guests at ease— even a spoiled American like me. We slept on comfortable beds and ate tasty, healthy Haitian food.

The village of Gramo the, about eleven miles southeast of Port-au-Prince, had suffered extreme poverty for years. When Mountain Top Ministries began, the villagers, sustained by meager farming, had no school, no church, and no employment prospects. These talented, smart, family-minded people were trapped in a life with no opportunities— or hope. By the time our medical team arrived, the Haitian pastor had started a school, a church, and a small clinic. Employment and hope were on the rise.

We worked in a cinder-block building with open windows and no electricity, treating children with scabies, worms, and other parasites. Adults came with high blood pressure, diabetes, and numerous medical and surgical needs. We brought with us medications unavailable in this part of Haiti.

Our team of eighteen included three doctors, four nurses, and eleven nonmedical personnel to serve where needed. My good friend Karen, who had recently retired, came with a desire to help the forgotten poor. Both of us felt a little nervous. She had no medical training, and I wondered if I could step into the surgical assisting role. Soon we both felt comfortable with the diverse challenges.

The third day of patient care, Sonia, a beautiful nineteen-year-old, presented with a huge infected cyst on her neck. The mass, about the size of a baseball, protruded above her clavicle and extended to her larynx. Through our interpreter, we learned the lesion had appeared several years earlier. A Haitian doctor removed it, but it returned after a few months. Sonia then sought the care of the voodoo witch doctor who treated it with traditional methods. It worsened. Ostracized by her village, Sonia struggled to survive.

I assessed her condition. Pus dripped from the infected cyst, producing a putrid odor. With no access to bandages, Sonia had covered it with a leaf to absorb the chronic drainage. But she couldn’t cover—or escape from—the smell.

When the surgeon examined Sonia, he knew he must excise the cyst. Karen and I prepped and draped her neck. Dr. Kothari injected 1 percent lidocaine with epinephrine around the area. He held the scalpel, paused a moment, put on a mask with a full visor attached, and continued. As he made the horizontal incision, a stream of yellow fluid shot up, covering his entire visor.

A powerful stench filled the clinic—and sent Karen running! The surgeon replaced his visor and completed the half-hour surgery. After he finished the last stitches, Sonia sat up and smiled. Through an interpreter, we explained the post-op instructions. I handed her the package of dressings, antibiotics, and pain medications, and gave her a hug. Then my own emotions surprised me. Although glad to have given her something she could not have otherwise received, I felt sad that I’d never see her again.

One year later, my husband and I led another medical team to Haiti. During the week of clinic, we toured the village and noticed the church choir practicing, so we took a few minutes to relish a native Creole song. Drawn to a lovely voice, I observed a young lady in the front row. I saw a horizontal scar on her neck. There, right in front of me, stood Sonia!

As soon as the song was over, I rushed up to talk to her. She smiled proudly, displayed her scar, and told us about the changes in her life since we helped her. She’d responded well after surgery, and the cyst did not return. She married and became a mother. Sonia also experienced spiritual healing with faith in Jesus and her eyes sparkled when she told us how she and her husband actively participated in church work.

I smiled as a great peace and joy accompanied me back to the clinic. As I contemplated our work there, I realized the results were far more than medical. Not only was Sonia’s life enriched, so was mine.

Anna M. DeWitt
as told to Twink DeWitt

[EDITORS’ NOTE: To learn more about and support Mountain Top Ministries, see www.mountaintopministries-haiti.org. ]

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