Local doctors tell of ‘humbling and gratifying’ service in Haiti

Local doctors tell of ‘humbling and gratifying’ service in Haiti

Oplan Evans displays his boots, a gift from Dr. Alan Gwertzman Dr. Alan Gwertzman

Oplan Evans has a new pair of boots – and his arms and legs.

As Dr. Alan Gwertzman tells it, the Haitian boy was in tears as he waited to be brought into the operating room in Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, about 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

Gwertzman, chief anesthesiologist at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, had come to Haiti, like two colleagues from Holy Name, to help in the medical emergency caused by last month’s devastating earthquake.

He had seen that “the Haitian people are very stoic. These kids, even though they had open wounds, horrible fractures, did not show much emotion – but as they got to the holding room before the operating room you could see that they were scared.

“It dawned on me,” Gwertzman told The Jewish Standard last Thursday, “that these children could see other children and adults go into the operating room with four limbs, but unfortunately many would leave with less.”

Oplan’s “injuries did not require that,” and Gwertzman “promised him that would not happen.”

Drs. Alan Gwertzman, left, and Timothy Finley flank Holy Name CEO Michael Maron at last Thursday’s briefing at the Teaneck hospital on the medical emergency in Haiti. Nicole Russell

This was his first visit to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, and he had noticed that “most of these children did not have shoes.” That gave him an idea.

“My boots were fairly new; they were a bright yellow and hard to miss.” Oplan had eyed the boots admiringly, “so I said I promise you will not get your leg amputated, and as a guarantee, before I leave … I will give you my boots. The morning that I was leaving I brought him the yellow boots and he was very happy.”

But for every boy like Oplan, “there are thousands” still in desperate need of medical help, said Dr. Timothy Finley, who with Gwertzman briefed staff and press at Holy Name last Thursday. Being able to provide that help – or some of it – was “very, very humbling and gratifying,” said Finley, an anesthesiologist whose recent stint in Haiti was his seventh.

In a subsequent interview with the Standard, Finley said that Milot had suffered “nothing as severe as Port-au-Prince,” and that Sacré Coeur “became a port in the storm for Haitians who could not go anywhere else. The Navy and the Coast Guard and French helicopters were constantly delivering patients” to be cared for there.

Unfortunately, the Milot hospital, which has had a relationship with Holy Name for many years and was used to handling 30 to 40 cases a week, was having to deal with 30 to 40 cases a day. Many of the injured worsened or died because of inadequate facilities, equipment, and supplies.

“The only monitor in three out of five operating rooms was your hand,” Finley told the standing-room-only gathering of mainly medical professionals. “We ran out of things like morphine. Had we had it, people would not have screamed all night.”

And “the smell of gangrene, blood everywhere, the chaos, was overwhelming.”

To combat the chaos, Finley instituted a regimen to run the hospital, and it is continuing to be followed.

“I saw the best of American medicine down there,” Finley told the gathering. “I’m proud to be an American, proud to be a doctor, proud to be a Holy Name physician because of its years of support” in Haiti.

“For $500,000, he continued, “we can build a better hospital, or at least [we can] put oxygen there. I’m asking for contributions. If we can raise this,” he said, “they’ve agreed they’ll call it Holy Name.”

He has donated $10,000 for Sacré Coeur and Michael Maron, the hospital’s president and CEO, told the gathering that he would personally double that gift. Also, Jane Fielding Ellis, the hospital’s vice president for marketing, public relations, and community, announced that the staff had raised $10,000.

“We’re hoping that people will respond,” Finley told the Standard. He said that one pressing need is for a permanent oxygen source. “A company has a unit for $250,000,” he related, “but is willing to sell it to us for $150,000.”

As for that hoped-for Holy Name Hospital in Haiti, he said, “We may try to ask some larger construction companies to help us in building – donating labor, materials, even money.”

read more: