Mission to Haiti

Mission to Haiti

Israeli surgeon, hero of Haiti, to speak to northern New Jersey physicians and dentists

Dr. Guy Lin wants to adopt this 5-year-old girl whose parents died in the earthquake. COURTESY DR. LIN

Dr. Guy Lin struggled to explain why, after January’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, he dropped everything to accompany Israel’s medical team of mercy.

“I am head of the trauma unit at the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya,” he began after pondering the question. “Every physician thinks he can do his job the best, but in Nahariya, if I am not there, many others could replace me. In Haiti, I felt that there was nobody else.

Lin, who served as chief surgeon at the Israeli mobile field hospital set up in Port-au-Prince, is scheduled to be the guest speaker for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Physicians & Dentists annual dinner on May 11. The event will pay tribute to 25 “heroes of Haiti,” local medical professionals who also volunteered their services in the wake of the disaster. Many are associated with local hospitals, including Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Hackensack University Medical Center, Holy Name Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, and The Valley Hospital.

Cathi Goldfischer, a nurse at Englewood, nurse-practitioner at a private practice in Ramsey, and chief of the Fort Lee Ambulance Corps, went to Haiti with the state-sponsored New Jersey-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team of 35 professionals.

“Haiti was our first appointment overseas,” said Goldfischer, the team’s head nurse. The volunteers arrived on Friday and waited at the American embassy for a few days before being picked up by a Coast Guard helicopter and brought to a makeshift clinic. Later, they moved operations to a mobile hospital staffed by the 82nd Airborne Division.

“We saw hundreds of patients a day for 17 days,” said Goldfischer. “The sheer magnitude of the physical devastation was just unbelievable.” The team hired local translators and paid them in MRE (military Meals Ready to Eat) and bottled water. They also hired wet nurses to feed babies who were orphaned or whose mothers were too dehydrated to breastfeed. “We did great work and the people were so grateful for any type of care.”

Goldfischer said she was impressed with the Israelis, who landed in Haiti and set up their hospital in just four hours. “I was absolutely in awe. As we were sitting in the embassy, we watched this and somebody on my team said we should throw out our playbook and use theirs instead,” said Goldfischer. “I felt so proud.”

Lin had participated in Israel’s disaster relief effort after the 2001 earthquake in India that claimed some 20,000 lives. However, that experience was much different.

“In India, there was containment of the situation by the local government, and not all infrastructure was destroyed,” explained Lin. “We functioned more like a community hospital than like a disaster hospital. In Haiti, we felt alone. There were about 12 medical delegations in Port-au-Prince and we had the highest level of facilities. We had to decide ourselves what to do, and for a few days we had nowhere to transfer patients.”

Lin spent 23 years in the Israel Defense Force’s Medical Corps as a combat surgeon for paratrooper and Special Forces units. He commanded the advanced medical course at the School of Military Medicine and headed the IDF Trauma Branch, training physicians to treat combat injuries. He went on to be Chief Surgeon of the IDF Northern Command.

Yet Lin claimed that what he saw in Haiti “was the worst sight I have ever seen in my life. I would grab an hour’s sleep, and afterwards I would think, ‘How did I allow myself to waste time sleeping? I could have saved another life in that hour.’ You feel like every minute of your time equals someone’s life or someone’s quality of life.”

Lin was moved by the gratitude he heard. “Almost every patient said, ‘God bless Israel’ or ‘Thank you, Israel,’ and they cried from emotion. They really appreciated us.”

In addition to his address at the UJA dinner, to take place at 6:30 at Teaneck’s Marriott Glenpointe, Lin will make clinical presentations to trauma and emergency personnel at local hospitals.

His appearance in North Jersey was arranged by Robert Miller, director of the UJA Physicians & Dentists Division. Miller had been disappointed to discover that none of the field hospital veterans was available through organized speaker channels.

“I called Hadassah, I called Shaare Zedek, I called the IDF spokesperson’s office – I made many calls to Israel, but came up with nothing,” related Miller. Then, on a hunch, he called his Israeli colleague from the UJA-NNJ Partnership 2000 project in the northern city of Nahariya. “I asked her if anybody from Western Galilee had gone to Haiti. And within 15 minutes, we had Dr. Lin.”

Miller said he was moved by the photos Lin sent him from his time in Haiti, showing the surgeon with children. “He’s got incredible medical credentials. But this shows what a great Jew he is, too.”

Lin said that Israel’s decision to send disaster relief teams all over the world is made at the political level and he could only speculate as to why the small country, itself in a constant state of alert, is always among the first to send help.

“I want to believe the reason is that as a Jewish country you cannot stand and do nothing when other nations are in trouble,” he said. “Maybe there are other considerations involved, but this is my feeling.”

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