February 2010


Story and photos by Samantha Oester

CAP HAITIEN, HAITI – Born in the northern region of Haiti, Dr. Maklin Eugene grew up without access to medical care. The son of farmers in a remote village, he decided at a young age that he wanted to make a difference in his home country. “Luckily, I’m not a person that gets very sick,” he said on the way to the EBAC orphanage in Cap Haitien Saturday. “But so many people here, they desperately need care, and don’t have any way to get it. I wanted to help Haitians live.”

Dr. Maklin Eugene travels to various clinics, orphanages and hospitals in the Cap Haitien area, helping the region’s residents gain access to medical care, as well as treating earthquake refugees. Here, he stands outside of the clinic in Jacquesyl Thursday.

Dr. Maklin Eugene travels to various clinics, orphanages and hospitals in the Cap Haitien area, helping the region’s residents gain access to medical care, as well as treating earthquake refugees. Here, he stands outside of the clinic in Jacquesyl Thursday.

Eugene works at various clinics, hospitals and orphanages in the Cap Haitien area, including the clinics in Tovar, Cotelette and Jacquesyl, St. Anthony’s Clinic and the orphanage in Kayang, making a total of
about $9,000 USD per year. Every day this week, locals stopped him on the street to ask for money to buy medications and bus fare to get to medical facilities, which he pulls from his own pocket. “They know how to do it,” he said. “They show me proof of what they need, like a prescription, and I help with what I can.” The young doctor has also been assisting the staff at Milot and Justinien Hospitals, to aid in the treatment of earthquake victims. The mayor of Cap Haitien, Michel St. Croix, along with Eugene, arranged for buses to pick up refugees from Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns and bring them to Cap Haitien for treatment. “We’re now overwhelmed with people, and people that need medical care,” Eugene stated. “But they have no place else to go. We couldn’t leave them in Port-au-Prince to die.” Many earthquake refugees are coming from Port-au-Prince with amputations, from body parts being cut off in order to pull them from the rubble, sometimes with rusty saws and other tools found on the street. “Being disabled here is so different,” Eugene said. “They don’t have any one to care for them, and their families are gone. There’s no programs for them here like in the United States. They may starve just from not being able to move.”

Dr. Maklin Eugene, a member of the Cap Haitien Health Network, stands outside of the new maternity wing of the Haiti Hospital Appeal, currently under construction.

Dr. Maklin Eugene, a member of the Cap Haitien Health Network, stands outside of the new maternity wing of the Haiti Hospital Appeal, currently under construction.

The country’s only medical schools, including the one Eugene attended, were located in or near Port-au-Prince and are no longer operable, with many students perishing in the disaster. In dire need of more health professionals, Haiti is in “serious trouble” without the students who were attending medical schools and universities when the Jan. 12 earthquake hit, according to Eugene. “Because of help and
supplies from the U.S. and other countries, medical care here was starting to get better,” he explained. “But now, a lot of people have lost hope. We need doctors and nurses so bad. We need schools. They might not get rebuilt for a long, long time.” Tent cities have been erected to give refugees a place to go, but it is a temporary fix. “The mayor in Cap Haitien is feeding them and trying to keep them alive,” Eugene said. “But no help is coming from the national government. Haiti was so bad before. It’s going to be even worse for a while.”
Dr. Maklin Eugene after an exhausting day treating patients inthe remote village of Pillette Monday. Eugene has been treating patients and helping people around-the-clock since the earthquake.

Dr. Maklin Eugene after an exhausting day treating patients in the remote village of Pillette Monday. Eugene has been treating patients and helping people around-the-clock since the earthquake.

With the current president of Haiti, Rene Preval, having a year left in office, many people have lost hope. “They are discouraged,” Eugene said. “It’s going to be hard to get people to even show up to vote in the next election. They feel like it doesn’t make a difference.” But optimism had been found in people like Eugene – Haitians working to make their country a better place for its people. In addition to his clinic schedule, and offering around-the-clock consultations and help with medications, he has established two businesses to help local women. He started a co-op to give women two-percent interest loans, with low monthly payments, to institute their own businesses. His other venture, Hands of Haiti, employs women to make medical scrub shirts, with a portion of the proceeds going to treat earthquake refugees. Soon to be sold on a website based in Virginia, Eugene hopes the scrub company will take off, and he will be able to expand and hire a lot more women from the Cap Haitien area. For Haiti’s future, Eugene said general education and health education is the key. A majority of Haiti’s population do not have access even to elementary schools. According to Eugene, not only would increasing the number of educated people in Haiti change the economy, but it would make the country generally healthier. “It’s very hard sometimes to explain to people who have never been to any kind of school how to take care of themselves,” he said. “They just don’t understand preventative care. And many times they leave the clinics without really understanding how to take their medicines or follow the instructions the doctor gives them.”

Haiti’s schools, however, are not currently managed by the government. Schools are built and ran privately, by organizations and individuals who want to see Haiti have a brighter future. “The people of Haiti are not like the bad things that you hear about the government,” Eugene said. “I want everyone to know that Haiti’s people are great, great people. They want to learn. They are so eager to go to school. They just can’t. If people here had more opportunities, Haiti would be a very different place.”

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Column and photos by Samantha Oester

It’s Saturday, our last day seeing patients in Haiti. Tomorrow we begin the long journey home. We piled on the bus again with all of our supplies, along with VOSH, now used to our morning routine. Our destination today was EBAC, an orphanage in Morne Rouge managed by Kathy Gouker and Alice Wise, Penns. natives who have been in Haiti for about 30 years. We set up a mini clinic in a pavilion near the orphanage’s school, including eye and medical exams. The orphanage currently serves about 100 children, increasing their capacity by 25 percent to care for children orphaned by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Nurse Paige Chamlis take the blood pressure of a young girlat the EBAC orphanage in Morne Rouge.

Nurse Paige Chamlis take the blood pressure of a young girlat the EBAC orphanage in Morne Rouge.

First we saw the orphans, most of whom spoke English learned at the school, where Gouker and Wise also serve as teachers. Well-mannered and ever-so loving, the children of all ages were excited to be cared for. They continued surrounding the pavilion, curious about us and craving our attention, as we opened our services to the general public. Familiar with EBAC and visiting doctors, everyone was very respectful and calm as they waited to be seen in Morne Rouge. It’s apparent Gouker and Wise have made quite an impression on the community in their several years there. “People know us, and know we’re help to help,” Wise explained. “We don’t have too many issues.” For several hours, we treated people under tiny watchful eyes. Near the end of the day, a young boy approached me. “My name is Reginald,” he said. “Will you take my picture and show it people where you live. Maybe they will write to me.” I took his photo and he wrote his name on a tiny strip of paper, very proud of his cursive. “I can write in English and curly English,” he said.

When asked how many children are adopted from EBAC each year, Gouker replied that in the many years she’s been there, there have been zero adoptions. “Being an orphan in Haiti is very different from the U.S.,” she explained. “Adoptions out of any orphanage in Haiti are extremely rare. Children go to an orphanage expecting that to be their forever home. They would be thrilled, and it would be a miracle, to get a home. But they know the reality of it, and they don’t expect it.”

Dr. Maklin Eugene, a Haitian physician who has been workingwith us throughout the week, consults with a young patient at EBAC.

Dr. Maklin Eugene, a Haitian physician who has been workingwith us throughout the week, consults with a young patient at EBAC.

According to Gouker, it is very difficult for people outside of Haiti to adopt Haitian children, especially in the U.S. But, on the rare occasion, it has been done. “It takes a very long time, and there’s a lot of red tape,” she said. “I’ve heard of people trying to go through the adoption process for years, only for some small thing to cause it to not be approved. It’s very discouraging.” As we packed up to go, we got pulled this way and that by children wanting to share their lives with us. “Even the littlest attention from people who they think are caring and loving means so much to them,” Gouker said. “They hold onto those memories. They just want to love and be loved.”

Unable to refuse, we were directed to the schoolhouse, as more and more youngsters added to the crowd, placing their hands in mine, hanging onto my pants and wrapping their arms around my waist. “I love you, and you are my friend,” I heard a little girl say to Paige Chamlis. They showed us the classrooms, and their “offices,” tiny desks side by side where each child keeps a small corkboard and schoolwork. “Those little desks are the only place in the entire world they can call their own,” Wise said. A few corkboards contained holiday cards and letters from doctors who had visited the orphanage before. “They are my family,” Ann, a young teenager said. “I have my orphanage family, and my American family. Maybe someday, I can see them again.”

Nurse Kristen Rumcik measures a little girl at EBAC.

Nurse Kristen Rumcik measures a little girl at EBAC.

A 17-year old named Eve stopped us to hear her sing. Known at the orphanage as the “Haitian Beyonce,” she had the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard from a completely untrained background. “In the U.S., she’d be on American Idol. Here, she’s an orphan,” Chamlis said. “Yeah, it breaks your heart,” Kristen Rumcik replied. As we walked to the bus, I was handed several tiny strips of paper with names. “Reginald said you would find someone in America to write to him,” a young girl said. “Can you find someone for us to?” I told them that I was sure people would love to write and send photos. “It’s so happy when we get a letter,” she said.

Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt treats a young boy at EBAC.

Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt treats a young boy at EBAC.

Back at our hotel in Cap Haitien, Mont Joli, a celebration was waiting. As a way to thank us for the work we, and the other medical teams staying there, had done that week, some of the staff and other people we’d met had a party for Jennifer Schmidt’s birthday. “There’s so much to be sad about, but there’s also things we have to be thankful for,” said Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien who had been helping us all week. “Sometimes we need to take a break from the tragedy and celebrate what we have.” Cakes and wine were brought out and shared with everyone at the hotel. (Several other medical teams from the United States, working in various areas, had arrived at the Mont Joli throughout the week.) People, of all races and walks of life, danced and drank, as I slipped away. I called my husband, and he talked to me while I cried myself to sleep.

*Note: The EBAC orphanage accepts orphan sponsorships. To sponsor an orphan, helping to better their care and gaining a friend for life, go to http://www.heartsforthehungry.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=44&Itemid=62.

Reginald, an orphan at EBAC in Morne Rouge, poses for a photo.

Reginald, an orphan at EBAC in Morne Rouge, poses for a photo.






Column and photos by Samantha Oester

We woke up at the Center for Formation commune early to the sounds of roosters and turkeys just outside our window. After breakfast, we walked back up the muddy path to meet the bus, and journeyed back to Jacquesyl. Everything was set up as the day before, but the people gathered at the church were even more anxious than the previous day. Possibly aware that we would not be returning the following day, the group waiting to have their eyes checked grew louder and louder as the morning went on. Throughout the week, I had learned the Creole pronunciations for the letters and numbers on the eye chart, so I sent Ralph, the interpreter working with me, to attempt to calm everyone and instill some kind of order. He yelled something in Creole, which worked for a few minutes until a fight broke out. A few men from the crowd volunteered to help. They sent some people outside, and served as security until it was their turn to be seen.

Dr. Matt Green checks he blood pressure a woman who stoppedhim outside of the Center for Formation in Jacquesyl.

Dr. Matt Green checks the blood pressure a woman who stopped him outside of the Center for Formation in Jacquesyl.

“It’s a really rowdy bunch today,” said New Hampshire resident and optometrist Mike Gordon, a member of VOSH. “They’re excited and nervous and afraid they won’t get to participate,” Ralph said to me. “Will we be back here tomorrow? They might calm down if I can tell them when they can be seen again.” I told him we weren’t coming back tomorrow – we were headed to an orphanage in another town. “I’ll just tell them I don’t know,” Ralph said. “I don’t want to make it even worse.”We continued trying to work while the crowd grew louder and more impatient. Eye exams were continued, and people were treated eye injuries and infections, including an entire family with trachoma, an infectious eye disease that causes blindness.

Optometrist Paul Halpern examines the eyes of an elderlywoman in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Paul Halpern examines the eyes of an elderly woman in Jacquesyl.

“It’s so sad when we see people with things like cataracts,” said Dave McPhillips, an optometrist from Pennsylvania. “A 10-minute surgery in the U.S. would get rid of it, but here, they don’t have access to it, so they’re just blind in one eye.” VOSH/DelVal is currently working with Haitian ophthalmologists to open an eye clinic in the Cap Haitien area that will perform routine eye exams, as well as eye treatments and surgeries. “It’s needed so bad in Haiti,” McPhillips said. VOSH/DelValis is a chapter of VOSH International, a group of eye experts partnered with the World Health Organization and World Council of Optometry. They work to help eliminate causes of preventable blindness, especially in third-world countries. “Here, they just think that since they’re grandparents couldn’t see at 40, and their parents couldn’t see at 40, that they just won’t be able to see at 40,” Gordon explained. “They have no idea it can be prevented and corrected. Simple surgeries would make a world of difference.”

Optometrist Dave McPhillips uses an autorefractor to check awoman's eyes in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Dave McPhillips uses an autorefractor to check awoman's eyes in Jacquesyl.

As noon approached, our group gathered at the bus, coming together from the church and nearby medical clinic, where members of our medical team had been seeing patients throughout the morning. The boy from yesterday, who lost his family in Port-au-Prince and wanted to go to school, approached us and handed Paige Chamlis a letter he wrote in broken English, so we wouldn’t forget about him. She turned to me with tears in her eyes. We were leaving for a few hours, so I told her to tell him to meet us here in the afternoon, when he saw the bus coming back. We would have a plan for him.

Optometrist Mike Gordon examines a man's eyes in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Mike Gordon examines a man's eyes in Jacquesyl.

We left Haiti Marycare and VOSH in Jacquesyl and travelled to an orphanage in Ferrier. The orphanage had received children from Port-au-Prince who might need medical care, and Dr. Matt Green, a physician from Virginia, sponsors a little boy there, Wisley. Green and his wife have sponsored the five-year old for 18 months, sending money for clothes, school and medical care, and writing to him. We were welcomed with open arms, and soon, two little boys and a young girl approached us, holding hands. The other two children, Lukinson and Francesca, are sponsored by Green’s mother and sister. As Green held Wisley for the first time, a woman who helps run the orphanage, Sylvia, said, “You are his godfather. We talk to him about you a lot.” We went to see where the children sleep, play and go to school, as the four – Green, Wisley, Lukinson and Francesca – walked hand in hand. The children were examined and were determined to be overall healthy, with some common ailments in Haiti treated.

Optician Linda Voss tries a pair of glasses on a young man in Jacquesyl.

Optician Linda Voss tries a pair of glasses on a young man in Jacquesyl.

“This is one of the best orphanages I’ve seen in Haiti,” Jennifer Schmidt said of the modest facilities. “You can tell they really care for the children here.” The orphanage made a meal, “so they can eat together, as a family,” the Sylvia said. After a tearful goodbye, we went back to Jacquesyl to pick up VOSH and the medical supplies we left at the clinic. As Green exited the clinic, he noticed a young boy standing outside, dripping with sweat and ready to collapse. The doctor rushed him inside, and the boy went limp. After an examination by Jim Morgan and Mary Lou Larkin, it was determined that the boy had pneumonia. He was quickly treated.

Dr. Matt Green with Wisley, an orphan he and his wife sponsor, at the orphanage in Ferrier.

Dr. Matt Green with Wisley, an orphan he and his wife sponsor, at the orphanage in Ferrier.

As we piled on the bus, the boy desperate to go to school returned, as we had told him. Paige Chamlis and I each talked to Sherman Malone, a social worker with Haiti Marycare who is fluent in Creole and familiar with the residents of the small fishing village of Jacquesyl. Everyone exchanged contact information, and Malone assured us we would find away to send him to school. Exhausted, physically and emotionally, we prepared for the long ride back to Cap Haitien.

Left ro right: Wisley, Lukinson and Francesca. Dr. Matt Green, along with his mother and sister, sponsor these orphans in Ferrier.

Left ro right: Wisley, Lukinson and Francesca. Dr. Matt Green, along with his mother and sister, sponsor these orphans in Ferrier.

Story and photo by Samantha Oester

CAP HAITIEN, HAITI – Pediatric Nurse Elizabeth Kaplan has been volunteering at Hopital Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Hospital) in Milot, Haiti, since the Jan. 12 earthquake. Located in the northern region of Haiti, near Cap Haitien, the hospital has been steadily receiving refugees from Port-au-Prince. “Even without this disaster, the state of Haiti was very sad,” she said Monday, on the way to the Haiti Hospital Appeal. “It’s even more terrible now.” The hospital in Milotis overwhelmed, according to Kaplan, but has been able to treat thousands of patients. “They’ve set up several military tents outside, and that’s where the post-surgery patients stay,” she explained. “They’ve tried to adapt as best they can to the situation.”

Kaplan, originally from Port-au-Prince, has been returning to Haiti for yearsto help medical facilities, and this is her third trip since the earthquake. “They need so much help,” she stated, shaking her head.“ There are so, so many amputees from Port-au-Prince. I’m just worried that after the earthquake aid stops, no one will think of the ongoing care that’s needed for them, like rehabilitation.”

Elizabeth Kaplan, a pediatric nurse in Florida, is originally from Port-au-Prince. She and husband Ted, founders of the Cap Haitien Health Network, are currently in Haiti aiding earthquake refugees and helping clinics in the Cap Haitien area.

Elizabeth Kaplan, a pediatric nurse in Florida, is originally from Port-au-Prince. She and husband Ted, founders of the Cap Haitien Health Network, are currently in Haiti aiding earthquake refugees and helping clinics in the Cap Haitien area.

On her current visit, Kaplan was only supposed to stay for about a week, but has now been here for three with her 10-month old son, working a lot with paraplegics. “Bus loads of people were still coming from Port-au-Prince to Milot, and there’s such a need,” she said. “I couldn’t leave. They need so much help, especially nurses.”Kaplan said she’s had a hard time seeing fellow Haitians suffering, especially after a disaster. “On my first day in Haiti after the earthquake, a 12 year-old boy died in front of me,” she sighed. “But there have been some miracle stories too.” One in particular concerns a woman at Milot who was paralyzed and refused to talk. She had been at the hospital for some time, and it was unknown if she was even able to speak. “When I got to her, she was lying in her own feces,” Kaplansaid. “And I cleaned her up and cared for her and treated her, and a few days later, she called out to me.” The woman thanked Kaplan for saving her life, and explained her choice to be mute until she met the respectful and caring nurse. “She lost her husband, her house, her ability to move, everything in the earthquake,” Kaplan explained. “And she has no idea where her kids are, dead or alive. She used to be a very independent woman, and now she’s alone, upset and dependant on the hospital.” Kaplan says stories like that remind her of why she’s here, and the importance of her help. “It makes my presence and my work worthwhile.”

According to Kaplan, the help coming from the U.S. and other countries has been “incredible,” but there remain needs not being met. “Honestly, there are a lot of people that would be dead without the help of volunteers and organizations from outside the country,” she said. “But there’s just so much to be done.”Now living in Florida, Kaplan and husband Ted, a pediatrician, founded the Cap Haitien Health Network, helping to fund and connect various groups in Haiti. “We want to treat and educate Haiti,” she said. “The network not only includes medical groups, but also groups that want to help make other aspects of their lives better, which also helps them medically. For instance, we work with people who are making natural methane gas out of feces and with people who help clean up the area and build housing.”

At a meeting of the network Wednesday, the need for continuing to help all Haitians, including those unaffected by the earthquake, and for the various groups providing aid to stay connected. “We can get a lot more done if we come together,” Kaplan’s husband said to the group of approximately 60 at the meeting. The plan for Haiti needs to include several aspects, like rebuilding “sound buildings,” medical care and education. “Education is so, so important,” she emphasized. “Health education, like family planning, and more schools. Children ask to go to school. They want to go to school.” Many of the country’s few schools and universities were located in Port-au-Prince, and are now gone or inoperable. “Young people here have a thirst for knowledge, but there are no resources,” she said. “If more schools were built, and if these eager and intelligent young people could go, Haiti would have a much brighter future.”

Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien, assists an eye exam.

Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien, assists an eye exam.

Column and photos by Samantha Oester

We piled on the bus early this morning, along with Haiti Marycare and VOSH International, and started toward Jacquesyl. The clinic in the Jacquesyl countryside, frequently visited by Haiti Marycare, is a working clinic that regularly sees patients. The medical team in our group planned to set up shop there, increasing the number of patients that could be seen that day, and offering any new treatments the staff physicians may want to learn.

Optometrist Dave McPhillips, from Pennsylvania, examines ayoung girl's eyes in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Dave McPhillips, from Pennsylvania, examines ayoung girl's eyes in Jacquesyl.

I headed to a nearby church with the VOSH team and Kris Beckman, a dental hygienist from Connecticut, along with her aid-for-the day Certified Medical Assistant Louise Ligas. As we approached the church, people swarmed to the bus. Eye and dental care are even rarer than medical care, and our presence filled the atmosphere with anticipation. Men from the crowd immediately helped carry the large bags of eye equipment and glasses inside, where we were greeted with hundreds of expectant eyes. Soon, the mini clinic was up and running, as more people rushed in.

Jennifer Schmidt, a nurse practitioner from Virginia, consults with a young patient and her mother at the clinic inJacquesyl.

Jennifer Schmidt, a nurse practitioner from Virginia,consults with a young patient and her mother at the clinic inJacquesyl.

Poor vision and eye injuries and diseases were diagnosed and treated, while infected and decayed teeth were extracted across the room. So eager to have their eyes checked, the multitude of patients gathered closer and closer, pushing and shoving, sometimes causing an uproar, as people feared they would not be seen. At several times in the day, Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien, assisting the eye exams, had to break up fights over seating. “No one wants to be left out,” Ralph explained. “They don’t usually get to have something like this.”

While he was settling a group of people down, enraged over a woman cutting in line, I stopped a second to think. Something as simple as an eye exam was so precious here, it caused brawls inside the church. I couldn’t imagine going my whole life being terribly nearsighted, and waiting in line to see the world for the first time.

Certified Medical Assistant Louise Ligas, of Virginia, helpsConnecticut resident and Dental Hygienist Kris Beckman extract awoman's infected tooth in Jecquesyl.

Certified Medical Assistant Louise Ligas, of Virginia, helpsConnecticut resident and Dental Hygienist Kris Beckman extract awoman's infected tooth in Jecquesyl.

At the back of the church, Beckman was preparing a syringe of anesthetic to pull a decayed tooth from a local woman. “You know how much a toothache hurts,” Ligas lamented. “Imagine having completely decayed teeth for months, or years. It hurts to get it out, but you can tell they are so relieved when it’s done.”

I walked outside for a moment, after watching the tooth removed, and met a young man. He spoke a little English, and told me he was from Port-au-Prince. His family died in the earthquake, and he made it to Jacquesyl to stay with his grandmother. “My school in Port-au-Prince, it went down,” he said. “I really want to go to school in Cap Haitien, but I can’t.” I then learned that he had been treated at the clinic by our group, Jennifer Schmidt and Paige Chamlis. “We’ll be back tomorrow,” I said. “We’ll talk.” As the day came to an end, we announced we would be returning the next day, and made our way to the bus. We headed for a commune nearby, the Center for Formation, so we could start early the next day. As we drove off, smiling faces chased us, and people wearing their new sunglasses and glasses stood on their porches, waving.

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