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.”

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