image
Sam Davis, right, and Dr. Tom Bojko are pictured with Presume and Roselyn DeHart at the For Haiti with Love burn clinic.

To most people, the January earthquake in Haiti had no connection to burn injuries ““ after all, it was not a fire. But the connection made sense to Sam Davis. The Teaneck-based attorney, founding director of Burn Advocates Network, helps equip and staff 22 burn camps and centers throughout the United States and one in Israel.

“A lot of our work is dedicated to helping burn survivors, so we did research and found out that because the standard [Haitian] method of cooking is using hibachis, hundreds of kids were burned when hibachi stoves went flying into the air with hot oil in them,” said Davis. “And kids with even minor burns were dying from infection because there was no supply chain for medicines and no facility left standing that was doing skin grafting; the biggest burn facility in Port-au-Prince had been destroyed.”

That left only a three-treatment table burn clinic called For Haiti with Love, founded 40 years ago by a Jewish man from Indianapolis and run by his adopted daughter, Haitian nurse Roselyn DeHart, and her husband Presume, a police officer. Its building sports a large Star of David on its façade.

“You would have a mother carrying a sick child for 70 miles, getting rides where she could, because this was the only place to get free care for burns,” said Davis. “Parents and children started essentially camping out and overwhelming this little facility.”

Ironically, DeHart’s dad had arranged spina bifida surgery for her many years ago at a Shriners Children’s Hospital, and – through Davis – Shriners surgeons, therapists, and dieticians are now helping DeHart treat burn survivors in Haiti.

Davis stumbled upon the clinic in March, while he was running a general BAN relief drive for Haiti. Through the generosity of the Israeli-owned Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, BAN and Cooper University Hospital in Camden shipped close to 50 tons of food and medical supplies out of Bayonne to the Royal Caribbean port in Labadee, North Haiti. Rabbi Lawrence Zierler of the Jewish Center of Teaneck came to Bayonne with a check from his congregation to help defray costs.

“Our slogan was ‘From the dock to the doctor in six days,'” said Davis, a member of Temple Beth El in Closter.

That was not an easy goal to meet. Because the Haitian airport was shut down, he hopped on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, got off at Labadee to receive the first shipment, and escorted the goods over treacherous mountain passes with the help of a Nepalese U.N. convoy. Along the way, Davis discovered For Haiti with Love just five miles from Labadee in Cap Haitien, and mounted an effort to staff and stock the facility.

Though he had intended to focus on burn victims, Davis could not ignore other medical needs he witnessed at Cap Haitien’s Justinian University Hospital. “It was swamped with earthquake cases and badly needed equipment and physical therapy help because they didn’t have a PT capability to tend to all the amputees,” he said.

Securing permission from the Haiti Ministry of Health to start a physical and occupational therapy clinic at Justinian, Davis returned with Jim Ressler of Medical Angels and Premier Home Health Care in Fort Lee; Karen Canellos, a licensed physical therapist from Englewood Hospital and Medical Center; and Dr. Thomas Bojko, an Israeli pediatric specialist from Tenafly who is director of medical services and clinical operations at Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Among their self-appointed tasks was training a crop of local therapists.

At the April 27 dedication of the facility, presided over by a Catholic priest, Davis and his team wore clothing bearing the logo of BAN’s Israeli burn camp. “They knew we were Jewish,” he said. “As a result of the Israeli field hospital, the entire country has a favorable view of Jews and Israel and many people expressed that to us.”

BAN also arranged for Royal Caribbean to bring over a new $155,000 life-saving oxygen processor from Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck to the Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot, and recruited a team of burn surgeons from Shriners hospitals, therapists from Weill Cornell Medical Center, and doctors from all around the country who belong to the American Burn Association.

“We are committed to taking the burn care system in Haiti to a point where they’re able to do skin grafting and care for more serious cases,” he said. “We will see how we can coordinate care offered by small satellite clinics like For Haiti with Love. With a little more education and supplies, they could save more lives.”

Davis likened the current standard of care in Haiti to “Civil War medicine,” citing many cases of patients undergoing amputations without anesthesia. “They use coconut and herbal paste on burn wounds, which is not going to keep patients alive for long once infection sets in,” he said. “We’re still raising funds and finding volunteers to keep antibiotics and bandages and medical equipment flowing to a place where burn cases often take years of care. The biggest challenge right now for those burned in the earthquakes is to get scar surgeries, because their hands and feet can start to claw.”

Davis pledged to secure kosher food for any Jewish volunteers who come forward.

Ressler wrote in his blog that the Sacre Coeur Hospital is expected to become the national facility for serious burn cases. “The catchment area would extend the 70 miles to Port-au-Prince and beyond…. It is our goal to enable For Haiti with Love patients who require a higher level of care or surgeries to get that care at [Sacre Coeur] and return to FHWL for wound aftercare.”

Davis is convinced that additional burn injuries are inevitable. “The next big disaster in Port-au-Prince will be a burn disaster because thousands are living in tent cities in close proximity and they’re cooking and storing fuels there,” Davis predicted. “When this disaster hits, there will need to be an expanded capability to deal with the injuries. Hopefully through this program at Sacre Coeur, there will rotations of clinicians and educators. It will not be an American style burn center, but it will offer a more organized system to save more lives given the resources they have.”

For information, go to www.haitiburnsurvivors.org or call (877)-BURN-411.