Haiti: Damaged Hospital, Desperate Patients, Determined Docs

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CRS communications officer Lane Hartill sent this report from a hospital in Haiti:

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.

Haiti sign

A makeshift sign marks the pre-op area outside at St. Francois de Sales hospital. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

What I can tell you about is St. Francois de Sales, the CRS-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.

Haiti patient

“We figured if people survived the apocalypse of the earthquake,” says CRS senior program director, Dr. Jude Banatte, at St. Francois de Sales Hospital, “then they should not die because of lack of care, and that’s what we are doing here, giving them the best care possible.” Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

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.

Doc Delva

Dr. Guesly Delva (center), an infectious-disease specialist from the Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, is working with Catholic Relief Services to treat quake survivors at St. Francois de Sales. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

“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 favorite 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.

Haiti hospital

Injured Hatians continue to flood into St. Francocis de Sales hospital in Port-au-Prince. CRS delivered food, clothing and medical supplies donated from Catholics in the Dominican Republic to hospital. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

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 counselor. 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 pediatrics 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 humor.

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 Belgian doctors and firefighters. 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 back up and running.

The best news: University of Maryland surgeons should be arriving shortly.

This crushed landmark is going to rise again.

Anna is sure of it.

Lane Hartill, regional information officer, sent this report from the ground in Port au Prince, Haiti.

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14 Responses to “Haiti: Damaged Hospital, Desperate Patients, Determined Docs”

  1. tim weil Says:

    That was a heart breaking, yet inspirational piece. May God be with you. All the Best. tim

  2. Karen Says:

    Thank you for letting us see and hear first hand what is happening at the hospital.I am sure you are doing wonderful work, listening and caring for people the way you do. Du courage to you and the rest of the team! Our prayers are with Haiti…

  3. Theresa Weimer RN Says:

    Thank you for keeping us informed. May the love of God be with you and sustain you as you labor for His children’s welfare. I’m praying for you.

  4. Ron Says:

    Thanks for the update…may God bless you all!

  5. Melinda Sullivan Says:

    Our hearts are hurting for all of the injured. God bless you and the work you are doing. Prayers are going up for all of you.

  6. Richard Says:

    Why can’t the orphange get any food from you?

    Editor’s note: On the contrary: food was delivered to them today.

  7. Pepe Says:

    The stars above tonight, even if covered by clouds are the images of the souls that left so suddenly a few days ago, they are reaching far to bring you peace. They are suns and moons that give light for you, don’t despair there is hope, it is coming from all over, the prayers around the world are the echo to console you. We wish you smiles and understanding, and healing, and new friendships. Do not forget you are loved by Our Lord, He has His ways. We from far wish you beautiful sunsets, and hope for the new days.

  8. Video: Scenes from St. Francois de Sales in Haiti | Voices of CRS Says:

    […] Lane Hartill’s story on St. Francois de Sales Hospital. […]

  9. Altagracia Says:

    Thanks for bringing us close to the tragedy and making us feel we’re walking with you. I send you my prayers and support. Being a Dominican I’m happy to see that CRS is highlighting the outpouring of help from the other side. News organizations, except Univision, haven’t mentioned the help they’ve have been providing.

  10. Marcelino Says:

    Thank you for your update. May God bless the people of Haiti with his healing grace. May he also bless and give strenght to all those who are helping the injured, the homeless, the thirsty and the hungry. You are God’s hands on earth.

  11. Nancyevans Says:

    Dear CRS.
    I’ve heard of your office downtown and almost offered to do “grunt” work for you,but my 80 years have slowed me,although I wish that I could. I am giving through church and the archdiocese what little I can,as well as unlimited prayers.
    One of my cousins(deceased) has a grandaughter working with your organization in Chile. I know how far your care reaches. I think that the cable news is not aware how farflung you and Caritas are. I will continue to pray,however,and I CAN donate that time. God bless you. He is right there,I know.Nancy

  12. Nancyevans Says:

    I am praying very hard for all you are doing.I know how quickly you go into action. The cable networks don’t mention you very much,but within the Church we know. My prayers are daily for all you do. I know you don’t discriminate,because I live in a Catholic Charities building for Seniors in MD.I’ve given at church and through the archdiocese and wish you and your patients all God can give,physically and emotionally. This event will never be forgotten.Blessings 100-fold.

  13. diania laubacher Says:

    Lane, I have been trying to volunteer to go to Haiti. I am a retired nurse anesthetist and feel my services would be very helpful in this. CRS officials say it is still too difficult and dangerous. Can you help me get there? I will be happy to send you my credentials. I am ready NOW

  14. Haiti quake: Hospital of Hope « Caritas Internationalis Says:

    […] 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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