Haiti quake: Hospital of Hope

Seventy percent of St. Francois de Sales hospital collapsed in the aftermath of the quake that ravaged the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The hospital was about to close but with the help of CRS and Caritas Haiti the hospital now has three working operating rooms. "We figured if people survived the apocalypse of the earthquake," says CRS senior program director, Dr. Jude Banatte, "then they should not die because of lack of care, and that's what we are doing here, giving them the best care possible." Credit: Sara A. Fajardo/Catholic Relief Services.

By Lane Hartill, CRS Communications Officer, Port-au-Prince.  CRS is a Caritas member in the USA.

A lot of the stuff I saw at the hospital, I can’t tell you about. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you cover your kids’ eyes. I wanted to cover mine.

What I can tell you about is St. Francois de Sales, the CRS/Caritas-supported hospital that was almost destroyed in the earthquake but is now once again taking care of people. The Haitians there will break your heart.

Like Sara. A 6-year-old with what seems to be a left leg broken in multiple places. The quake buckled her house and she was trapped under it for a few hours. She was finally pulled out and now she’s here. Laying in a white undershirt and a diaper fashioned out of bandages. Her mom, wearing a red beret, sits next to her and spoons rice and beans into Sara’s mouth from a Styrofoam container. Neither of them smile.

Many of the people at the hospital were trapped in rubble and have the ghastly injuries to prove it.

Some were trapped for a few minutes, others for a few hours. Most of them sat on the floor in the heat and stink of various hospitals around the city.

They waited patiently to be helped by medical staff that were bombarded with people broken apart, being carried in on doors and tables and any flat surface people could find. At night, the injured slept in the street and hoped that tomorrow would be better.

Hovering over Sara was Dr. Guesly Delva, a Haitian who now works in Baltimore, MD, at the Institute of Human Virology. He’s lived in the United States for 15 years. He went to medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“I was dreadful of coming here because of what I was seeing on TV,” he says. “I broke down the first night.”

And now he’s here, hovering over Sara, speaking to her mom in Creole, the language he grew up with. As the day wears on, and the more bandages he peels back, the more his face sinks.

“I feel a sense of desperation,” he says. “There’s so much to do. I know that we’re probably not going to have enough time or resources to relieve all the pain and suffering.”

Ninety-nine percent of the people at the hospital are trauma cases. Stessy Jeannot, 18-months old, asleep on a bed in a frilly skirt and red velvet top, had part of her hand crushed. Dore Lalanne, 12, sleeping in his underwear next to a French bible, has severely injured legs. Still he’s in a good mood and brightens up when the subject of soccer, and his favourite player, Messi, the Argentine, comes up.

Seeing the kids was rough. But it was good to know they were finally getting help. The toughest part for me was when a doctor rushed up and asked for me to follow him.

We wound our way through the patients. His walk had an urgency about it that made me uncomfortable. He led me to a blond-haired Belgian doctor, holding a 1-year-old little girl named Shleidem who was resting her head against the doctor’s chest.

On a bed next to her, Shleidem’s mom, Vanessa, 24, was getting ready to go into surgery. Her leg had a deep, ugly cut in it. The wound needed cleaning and suturing. These people lost their house, the Belgian doctor, told me. Can you find a place for them to stay?

There had been a mistake. They saw me jotting down notes earlier and mistook me for a counsellor. And, unbeknownst to me, word had spread that I could help families find a place to stay.

“I’m afraid for the baby,” said Dieuness, Shleidem’s father. “We have no place to go.”

‘Courage,’ I told him, a phrase that’s frequently heard now. Nothing else seemed appropriate. I knew that word wasn’t enough. But I also knew that without St. Francois de Sales, Vanessa’s leg may have become infected and Sara would never have had someone like Dr. Delva helping her.

It was only a few days ago that patients lay listless in the courtyard here. The doctors seemed shell shocked when they told me during the quake the paediatric ward collapsed on the maternity ward that collapsed on some surgery rooms. Nobody knows how many people are trapped inside. Some say 50. Others say 75. The truth is, nobody knows.

Things seemed so hopeless that the medical director considered closing the hospital down.

Then Anna van Rooyen showed up.

Anna’s got a personality that won’t quit. She speaks four languages and can multitask like a pro. Most impressive: Even in the chaos of Port au Prince, she has a sense of humour.

She’s determined to get St. Francois de Sales, built in 1881 and one of the oldest hospitals in Port au Prince, up and running again. She works on the AidsRelief team. The consortium, that includes CRS, partners with St. Francois de Sales. After the earthquake, Anna was named the head of CRS’ emergency health response. She helped organize the visit of a team of Belgium doctors and fire-fighters. The firemen dug into the rubble of the hospital and accessed the medical supply room. Anna arranged for more medical supplies. Volunteer nurses and doctors from around the city started examining people in the courtyard. She got people cleaning up a building that had not collapsed, one that CRS helped build; it would serve as the operating room. She even got the hospital an ambulance.

Now three operating rooms are going at once; They do a lot of amputations and debridement. A refrigerator was pulled out of a destroyed building and cleaned up to be used for blood storage. Anna contacted the United Nations for blood.

St. Francois de Sales is receiving support from the worldwide Caritas network as part of their appeal for Haiti. This blog first appeared on CRS Voices.

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

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