Our return to Dame-Marie this past February was filled with some anxiety about the physical conditions and the state of recovery from Hurricane Matthew, as well as the health of our Sisters and Brothers in this resilient fishing community. But of course to get there, we first had to travel those difficult hours on the bus. The final part of the 10-hour ride entails traversing mountains in endless switchbacks, and I always count off in my head the six peaks that are in our way before the sea beckons.
I have stood on the mountainside just outside Dame-Marie looking back on the route of our journey. It does give credence to the legend that Haiti is a land of mystery and wonder. However, the reality of crossing over those peaks means that the roads are very difficult. The road is rutted volcanic rock with no base and there have been no repairs done since the hurricane. Hence, the two flat tires along the way were not unexpected!
This trip marked a major achievement for our program and for the community of Dame-Marie. For the first time, we had a 50-50 mix of Haitian and U.S. doctors and nurses serving together on our team. The mission of MATH is Helping Haitians Heal Haitians, and this trip was a testament to that guiding ethos.
A total of twenty-three surgeries and six procedures under local anesthesia were performed. This trip was particularly dramatic for the two obstetrical emergencies we experienced. Two young, pregnant women each presented with seizures and dangerously elevated blood pressures. Mothers and babies were at risk of death if they were not delivered quickly. The team stabilized them and both had emergency C-sections. Success is measured by the faces of the staff who took care of them after, as well as the cries of new life in Dame-Marie.
Running a surgical service, it is sometimes difficult to ease the suffering of a patient when there is a language barrier, even though we have talented interpreters. The difference between winning and losing a patient under these conditions exists on a razor’s edge. Several times it was God’s helping hand or grace that I believe resulted in the patient doing well.
Dame-Marie has the only working Delivery and Operating Room in the western portion of Haiti. The only other facility is the Cuban hospital, an hour’s drive away but unfortunately, still out of commission from hurricane damage.
As our service to this community enters the fifth year, our hospital administrator and benefactor, Mr. Pierre Antoine, also has raised funds to renovate and furnish with cribs an area for a new Pediatric ward. When I asked him how he can get money when there is none, he smiles and says, “You just have to be able to get blood from a stone.” I now call him Saint Pierre.
Through all of this, you can see how skilled medical and non-medical personnel, not “American” or “Haitian”, but regular people with exceptional hearts, can come together for the first time and work miracles. Our good reputation is growing with the Haitian government and local communities. The future is bright with your support. The greatest light we shine is the light of hope. We hope that Haiti’s future will include clean water, electricity and sufficient food. In this hope we continue on toward better health for our sisters and brothers in Dame-Marie.