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Doctors go to Haiti to Treat Children

They primarily went on the 10-day goodwill mission to treat clubbed feet, but found they were needed in a lot of different ways.

It's a destroyed city.

That was the takeaway a group of four representatives of Atlantic Health got when they visited Haiti earlier this month on a goodwill mission to both treat and train the people of the earthquake-ravaged country.

"People live basically on two piles, rubble and garbage," said Dr. Tim Leier, director of Pediatric Pain Management at Goryeb Children's Hospital at Morristown Memorial Hospital. "The amount of poverty is really striking."

Leier, along with Dr. Barbara Minkowitz, medical director for Pediatric Orthopedics for Atlantic Health, Lisa Campo, orthopedic trauma physician assistant at Morristown Memorial Hospital, and Ariel Faiwiszewski, a senior premed student at Rutgers University, traveled to Adventiste Hospital in Port-Au-Prince from Aug. 1-10 primarily to help treat young children born with clubbed feet deformation, a condition that leaves a child's foot turned inward and affects one out of every 1,000, both in Haiti as well as in the U.S. 

But, that was only the start of their mission.

As soon as they arrived, they got to work. Faiwiszewski, who as a student in the United States is limited to what he can do in a hospital, threw on scrubs like the rest of the trained colleagues he is working to eventually become. "It was based on dire need, they did not have a scrub nurse," Leier said. "We were relying on him, and he did a great job."

"It was absolutely incredible," Faiwiszewski said. "I'd love to continue to help."

A scrub nurse wasn't the only thing the hospital lacked. There were no orthopedic surgeons, there was only one nurse allotted every ward, many of the basic supplies had to be provided by the patients' families and the medicine room was not even as big as a doctor's examination room. 

Despite the incredibly tough conditions, the four ambassadors from America worked with what they had available, which included supplies donated by Atlantic Health, including food supplements, antibiotics and pain medicine, as well as the meager supplies in the hospital. In addition to the treatment of children with clubbed feet, the doctors treated basically anyone that needed care during their stay. They also held classes during their 10-day stay. "What is really needed is to involve the local people," Leier said. "Teach them the proper techniques and help them understand."

"The idea is to help them help themselves," Minkowitz said.

The situation in Port-Au-Prince remains dire. "The course of need in Haiti has changed since the time of the earthquake," Minkowitz writes on the group's blog. "It is no longer acute orthopedic care that is needed. At this time there are many patients with fractures that won't heal, fractures that are healed in a bad position and need surgery because what they had didn't work or they haven't had any surgery yet. There are many that have bone infections."

A political quagmire has practically brought aid to a standstill in Haiti, the doctors said. The mighty presidential palace remains in ruins, eight months after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed over 200,000, injured 300,000 and left 1 million Haitians homeless. Across the street there is a tent city that was there before the quake, highlighting how bad it was before the natural disaster and how bad it has become.

"It was really jaw-dropping," Campo said. "As far as the eye can see, there was extreme poverty and destruction. There are no words to describe what we saw."

Despite the desolation, Minkowitz said they are eager to return, possibly in January. A greater goal, through a network of other concerned doctors throughout the world, is for a group to go to Adventiste Hospital every other week to supervise the progress medics there are making in restoring the hospital care. "Our goal is to help and support, but not [take it over]," Minkowitz said. "There are people like us willing to go and be supportive."

An example of how bad the situation has been, and how outside aid can help, came early for the group. On the first day, they tended to an elderly woman who appeared to be dying. The doctors, without proper materials or equipment, had to rely on their clinical sense and hope they were right.

"Somehow," Minkowitz said, "we got her out of bed and by Friday, we were sending her home with her family. It was nothing short of a miracle."

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