Canadian Medical Teams Helping Out in Haiti

Bangladesh, Day 2

It’s 3:30 in the AM and I can’t sleep.   I thought it was the time change, but I can’t stop thinking about the sites of today.

The city is intensely dense. At 20,000 people per square km, there isn’t a lot of room.  But the roads and infrastructure are good, and we feel safe.

We began the day by touring a facility for “pavement dwellers.”  These are people who literally lay on the street at night. No cover overhead, no blankets, no place to call home. In fact, they do not even exist in the eyes of the government (no name, no address, no citizenship).   I initially wondered why they were not referred to as the homeless until I saw the pictures.  People just putting their heads down directly on the pavement at the end of the day.  500,000 of them. 100,000 in Dhaka. One third of them are kids. Even typing this I can’t believe those numbers.

But there is hope. Our host has created an amazing institute to help some of these people, especially some of the kids.  We arrived to 100 singing kids wishing us well. They sang and danced and did a presentation. They were interactive, alive, engaged, like they had new life because of the help that was being provided for them.   Still, this institute only looks after around 11,000… there is still so much to do.

What I saw in the afternoon was what has been keeping me up. We visited a combination clinic and school.  The school was amazing and there were more pavement children there to get protection and education. But when we did clinic, we saw patient after patient who were young women in the sex trade, all of whom were asking to have the scars on their face revised, all had been cut in the same fashion on both cheeks. I had to bite down on my own outrage. Horrific, gut wrenching, sickening, sad, anger… I felt so many things at once that I can barely think of the words to describe it.

One girl was 12.

She had scars on both cheeks, and one across her neck.  12 years old… 4 years older than my Maggie.  She should be in grade 7. Instead, she is begging for us to help take the symbols off her face. She sat there in silence as we explained there was nothing we could really do for her. She sat still for a while with blank eyes. As she got up, you could see she was at least 6 months pregnant.

I gotta be honest. I didn’t see this coming and my heart truly hurts tonight. Just want to shake the planet and yell what the hell is wrong with us?

Gonna go see if the gym is open. I can’t sleep and I need to work off some frustration.

– Andrew

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If someone asks for help

I didn’t want to come here. Bangladesh. I had a lot on my plate between work and Haiti and finding time in between to be a husband and a dad. A friend of mine had approached me a while back to come and assess their charity and explore where they can improve and how Broken Earth could use its skills to help improve theirs.

I was being selfish.

I justified it to myself that I was trying to protect the resources we have for Haiti. But as quick as I said no, it struck me why we went to Haiti in the first place…

if someone asks for help and you are able, you should.

I thought about the opportunities that could exist with Broken Earth in a different country without changing our focus from Haiti.  It struck me that we could offer to support teaching and education while not diluting our efforts to the people of Haiti.

Frankly if I had stopped and thought about the work, the risks and the sacrifices prior to going to Haiti, I don’t know if I would have gone in the first place. But I did. I’m glad I did. I’m proud of how many of us have now chosen to go.

I have often dreamed what mountains lie beyond Haiti, what tasks and opportunities would present themselves next. I never dreamed it would be Bangladesh, but then again, I had never dreamed of Haiti either.

Please stay tuned as this journey begins. Like that first trip to Port-au-Prince in 2010, I have no doubt that it will be an eye-opener and I really want to share the experience with you.



Five years of change

Five years ago today, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and so many more were injured and irrevocably changed after the earthquake that levelled Port-au-Prince in Haiti. It only took a few minutes but families and communities were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.  I remember the aftermath so clearly and that odd feeling of being fortunate to not have been there when it happened. It’s hard to believe that was five years ago. I try not focus on what was lost. Instead, I choose to remember how I’ve witnessed the courage it has taken for Haitians to survive, to find hope again and rebuild.

Five years ago, the world mobilized and people from all walks of life, all across the world came to support the Haitian people.  We see this too often… immediate response that quickly loses its momentum. For some, Haiti has faded from hearts and minds.   But for others, the fight to make it a better place is still alive and well.

Most ask how Haiti has changed since 2010. Well, I have seen the streets reappear from the rubble. Buildings begin peeking up over the landscape again. And slowly but surely the infrastructure has been buzzing back to life.

The biggest change, the one with the most lasting effect, has been the changing relationships.  Working not in front of, or behind, but along side of the Haitian medical staff to improve techniques and create a focus on education. That has been a tremendous accomplishment.

There’s no question about it, Haiti changed everyone on our team in some way. For me, I am a better surgeon because of Haiti. I truly believe I am a better teacher, a better father and a better husband because of Haiti. I have taken more than I could ever possibly give to Haiti. And I am committed to trying to repay that debt.

And for all our supporters, those who have donated, attended fundraisers, sent encouraging messages to teams on the ground… the change we’ve made was only possible because of you.  I can’t thank you enough for that.

Haiti has changed.

Haiti is changing.

I hope that we can continue to be a part of it for as long as we are needed.

– Andrew

Happy Holidays from Team Broken Earth: A Recap of 2014

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Thank you for being a part of our year – another exceptional year of great moments of team work and success. Thanks to your support, we delivered hope and healthcare to communities and people in need in Haiti in many new ways in 2015. 

 We’ve continued to provide care and share our knowledge. We’ve also helped Haiti rebuild infrastructure and learned what the needs are in rural Haiti. 
We’re growing, expanding and finding new ways to ensure the needed infrastructure and support in Haiti is sustainable for their people and communities.
Above all, we’ve changed lives, improved lives and saved lives. Thank you for your support and for letting us continue to make a difference.  
Here’s a glimpse of our year and a snapshot of what we have accomplished together,
  • Grew to a team of over 600+ volunteers nationwide!
  • Hosted another Rock Op and raised much needed funds for our future missions. Thank you to our Rock Op partners for a 4th year of awareness, hope and fundraising.
  • Our fundraising and volunteer collaboration sent another 12 teams to Haiti!
  • We’ve proudly expanded our reach: Team Broken Earth Rural began with its first mission led by Dr. Barter.
  • New missions joined us from across the country: Vancouver and Ottawa joined the TBE family
  • Delivered an educational trauma symposium to our medical colleagues in Port-Au-Prince.
  • We watched progress on the new addition to the hospital in Port Au Prince – thank you to our friends at Columbus Communications for their ongoing, incredible support.
  • Raised awareness of our cause at home through fundraisers in communities nationwide, including a collaborative issue with Atlantic Business Magazine.
  • Celebrated our volunteers during National Volunteer Week.
  • Began to prepare for 2016 and the 5th Anniversary of our inaugural mission and Rock Op. Stay tuned for more details on this incredibly special event for our TBE community. 
Join us in 2015 as we continue to help, educate, lead and support Haiti. 

Homeward bound

As the minutes wind down on another trip everyone is exhausted, hot and in desperate need of a real shower! What a week though. Every time I think I’m getting used to this, Haiti proves me wrong. These medical missions are always fulfilling, busy and emotional for us all.  But above all, they are so rewarding.

The ER staff has been busy and the nurses have been covering different shifts, helping each other out.  That’s true teamwork.

The peds unit is always the hardest but again the nurses came through, pushed through some hard shifts and rose to a level above what anyone could expect.

The ICU once again was over flowing with the sickest patients in Haiti but our resident doctor, Dr. Stone, got it done in style.

We had a birthday today.  Our physio, Susan Baird. Not going to say how old but she is spending it in Haiti with the team. That’s commitment!

Perhaps the person who needs the biggest break is Dr. Dick Barter.  He has been down here for almost three weeks.  You would never say it.  His spirits are always high and his work ethic pushes us all to be a little better. Dick’s commitment to the people of Haiti is something we should all be truly proud of.

My 3 year-old son cried this morning when he woke because I wasn’t home.  Someday I hope he will understand. But for now it is a sign, not just for me but for all the hardworking members of our team. We need to get home.  We may be headed north but our hearts are big enough that a piece stays in Haiti.

Thank you all for reading and sending your kind words of support. It truly energizes us all.

– Andrew

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Long way from home

Seems strange to write a blog at a time when our nation has been shaken to its core. The terror and hysteria that must have evolved in Ottawa on Wednesday was felt by every Canadian around the world and Team Broken Earth in Haiti was no different.

Everyone was glued to the TV at the United Nations watching coverage on CNN.  Receiving texts and updates on Twitter, team members were somber and reflective.  All thoughts and prayers were directed to our nations capital.  We will all remember where we were as a team on October 22, 2014

The pace of the day was the only thing that kept us going.

The nurses in pediatrics visited an orphanage yesterday. One of the babies they checked on was a new arrival… he was found abandoned in a garbage pile the day before they arrived. The incredible people at the orphanage, devoting their lives to this cause, took the unclothed and malnourished baby in and began to provide immediate care. The nurses realized how sick the child was and today the baby arrived at our hospital for our team to help resuscitate and give him a starting chance at life.

Yesterday I witnessed poverty that I had never quite seen before and will never understand.  Travelling through the interior of Haiti, on what can only be described as donkey paths, I saw multiple children, of all ages, living in dirt huts with no clothing.  Naked children walking along the path.  Don’t get me wrong Port-au-Prince is poor, but being in place that’s even poorer, as in can’t even afford some clothing poor, is a level I have yet to experience.  It was tough to watch as we drove by in an air-conditioned truck.  Why them and not me? Take a minute to count your blessings. I did. I do that here often.

The good work continued on into the night for the OR team.  Trauma has been busy.  Busy is what keeps the focus away from the act of insanity at home. Thank God for the good people in the world.  I have to believe that although one madman can impact our world, so to can altruism, and altruism is more frequently found than madness.

Altruism can change the world.

– Andrew

Switchbacks and the journey

Yesterday I left Port-au-Prince to investigate other potential hospitals and sites for Team Broken Earth. It involved 6 hours in a car driving through winding bumpy roads. The horn, I have come to realize, is more important than the brakes or transmission in a car in Haiti.  Everyone communicates with the horn. It’s an amazing language they have developed and is extremely dangerous to travel without. Of course the constant honking meant no sleep but it gave an opportunity to reflect on our work here.

The trip involved going from the seaside of Port-au-Prince straight up the mountains and then over the top and down to Cap-Haitien. A harrowing, adventurous drive over dirt roads, through switchback after switchback climbing up the hill (a switchback is a 180° bend in a road or path leading up the side of a mountain). At every turn in a switchback, the horn would blow to make sure there wasn’t another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction coming down the hill. Occasionally entertaining but more often a white-knuckled experience.

As we were driving, at least 20 minutes from the last house I saw, there was a single little girl walking alone in a pink dress with a white shirt and a big smile.  There was no evidence of a house for almost the last half hour of the drive but there she was, walking, alone.   Where did she come from?  Where was she going? This lone young girl in the middle of nowhere… it caused me to suddenly reflect on where we had come from as a team and where we were going.

The idea that started with three or four people after the earthquake has now grown into over 500 volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, there have been harrowing switchbacks but we all climbed the hill together. As for where we are going… as we get larger and provide more care, education becomes more of the focus so that Haitians can begin to teach themselves.

But I think, more than the destination, perhaps like the smiling girl, it is about the journey, our collective personal journeys that make Team Broken Earth work.  People volunteer their time (often their vacation time), without pay, away from home and loved ones, to make a difference in the world.  And maybe that is the whole point. All we do, where we are going, is all about the journey towards education and helping people along the way.

We visited two sites when we got to our destination and both were struggling with a lack of equipment and funds.  But we did find one opportunity for a maternal team that may work for the delivery and caring for newborns, and of course made connections to teach in the future.

I’m anxious to return to the rest of the team to hear about their progress. They visited an orphanage today and the stories from there are always gut wrenching (apparently there was a new baby there brought in off the streets). Yeah. Believe me, those stories are hard on the heart.

Grant Boland and Michelle Murphy are headed to a school today to do an art class and Skype with some classes from home. Extending our reach towards the community is important!

So where are we going?  Honestly, I am not 100% certain. But I am 100% certain we are headed in the right direction by helping to change the face of a developing country. So grab a seat in the car and I will blow the horn to make the next turn in the switchback heading up the hill.  Together, we will get there.

– Andrew

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Planning and organizing for the week

I’ve heard that perfection is in the details but I beg to differ. I think perfection is found in organization. Maybe that’s the same thing. I’m a doctor not a linguist!  But I believe in the right people doing the right jobs and everything working in balance no matter how stressful it gets. We all work towards that here. And it’s a lesson we take back with us each time.

Anyways, no rest for the weary (or is it the wicked?). All hands were up bright and early today and it’s going to be a full day of clinic for the surgeons. Dr. Fitzpatrick (plastics) and Dr. Sampson (anesthesia) have been working as a team assessing pediatric patients for the OR this week.

Orthopedic surgeons Dr. Jackman and Dr. Moores travelled to the public hospital to triage which patients we could help in our limited time here.  Too many patients, too few hours. Unfortunately that’s always a problem here.

Patricia, an equipment rep for Stryker, has taken over as the lead logistics person, booking patients for surgery and detailing all equipment.   She’s been a real super star for the team this trip.

There was a massive rain storm last night. One of our rooms flooded.  Equipment and wet gear.  Electricity out.  But no dampened spirits.  Everyone is excited to start work tomorrow. It’s just one more hurdle to jump and we’re all pumped to go the distance.

Off to dry the floor…


Ps. Please send along any comments or questions you may have. We really do get by thanks to your support.

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The Energy of Inspiration.

Coming from an island in the raging North Atlantic, it might seem odd that a place like Haiti is more becoming like a second home. It’s been getting easier coming down here with every trip. I like to think that we’re getting it down, becoming more efficient, a little smoother.

Sure, it is always tough to leave home, but there’s always something so inspiring that brings us all back again and again. When I pause to think of the network we are creating, it just makes me so proud of our now national effort. From Calgary’s educational influence to communicating with Vancouver, Halifax and Ottawa about their upcoming trips, you really see the future take shape and for Haiti that means the most important commodity of all… hope. Many hands do lighten the load and, more importantly, they also extend the reach.

The organization of Broken Earth can be grueling at times. Six teams in a three-month period is not unlike organizing six different weddings. It can cause you to lose focus. Run you down. But then the kindness of an individual can completely recharge you. That happened to me just before we left…

One of our team members told me about a patient she had at our hospital in St. John’s. The patient’s name is Loretta and she was so moved by Broken Earth’s work in Haiti that she wanted to help too. Keep in mind this special person is in hospital, as a patient! She got the nurses to purchase first aid kits to bring to Haiti. On top of that, she wants to organize a fundraising dinner when she’s discharged. At a time when most people would be rightfully focused on themselves, Loretta is focused on helping us help the people of Haiti. Even writing this now, I get a rush and want to do more. Thank you for that, Loretta!

Now it’s back to work here in Port-au-Prince. Lot’s to do but thanks to people like Loretta and all our supporters, our team is ready for it.

– Andrew

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The harsh reality of rural Haiti

To spend a day at Port-au-Prince’s Bernard Mevs hospital is to see people suffering the worst of the worst – things like enormous tumors, horrible strokes, malnourishment to the extreme.

But a day in the northern village of Bord de Mer Limbe is to see where the worst takes root. It’s a place without running water, without electricity, without paved roads. Set against the ocean, it’s a place where prior to the earthquake, 14% of the population lacked adequate sanitation. Nothing has improved.

This is where Team Broken Earth’s rural team started their clinical work in Haiti. They reopened for a day the shuttered clinic at the village’s edge. By the time the gates swung open at 8 am, 50 or so adults were lined up at front. An impromptu market of a dozen sellers set up at the gates, peddling drinks and fried plantains.

The team divvied up the available clinic space. Two paramedics triaged patients at the front, dietitians worked in the open-air courtyard and the physicians split the exam rooms – two physicians to a room. That meant two physicians, two translators and two patients in each small examining room.

TBE’s rural team treats patients who lack regular access to any healthcare provider. Their goal is preventative, aiming to halt the progress of problems that are prevalent at places like Bernard Mevs.

Dietitian Jen Woods used photos and measuring cups to demonstrate to her patients how much they should be eating, and what, in order to ward off malnourishment, which leaves the region’s children extremely prone to infections.

Among adults, hypertension is prevalent. Villagers don’t have access to a doctor or nurse who could check their blood pressure regularly. Even if they did, there are very limited medications available. I saw the region’s makeshift pharmacy one afternoon. It’s a beat-up jeep driven by four men who illegally sell pharmaceutical drugs, real and fake, from their vehicle. They advertise by calling out to villagers through a tin loudspeaker strapped to the roof of the jeep. “Do you have a belly ache? Do you have a headache? We have pills!” they shout.

James Rourke, Dean of Medicine at Memorial University, said patients in Port-au-Prince have much more access to medicine than those in rural areas. “There, at least, they can get cheap medicines on the street.”

Even when medications are available, there’s little monitoring of blood pressure in Haiti, resulting in what Dr. Rourke called the “tragedy of untreated hypertension.”

“That was brought home to me on my last visit to Port-au-Prince. At Bernard Mevs, we saw 45 and 50 year olds with strokes. Our goal here is to give people medication to control hypertension and prevent strokes, and give them medication at a cost they can afford.”

– Christina

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