Profiles in caring: Four who labor to better other people’s lives
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Profiles in caring: Four who labor to better other people’s lives

Sam Davis' mercy mission continues

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Sam Davis (holding a leg splint used to prevent burn scar contracture) and his daughter Alana Davis, watch as volunteer physical therapist, Ivens Louius administers physical therapy to a pediatric burn patient.

Sam Davis got news seemingly straight from the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah: A badly injured boy named Lucken Colas was finally discharged from the Haiti burn clinic that the Teaneck-based attorney helped establish as founding director of the Burn Advocates Network (BAN).

“It’s news like that that makes the mission worthwhile,” says Davis, who visited the impoverished island nation for the fifth time in August to check on existing projects and get new ones off the ground.

Although January will mark two years since the devastating hurricane from which Haiti is still struggling to recover, serious burns resulting from the disaster – and from everyday conditions in the tent cities in which many natives are housed – have not faded from Davis’ priority list.

“You can sometimes wallow in the lack of progress that is sometimes oppressive there,” says Davis, a
Tenafly resident. “But you have to look at where there is progress. I got a call from the Israeli nurse whom I’d asked to follow up on the cases we had treated, and she told me that Lucken was discharged. At first, we weren’t sure he would make it.”

As The Jewish Standard reported in June 2010, many people were badly burned during the earthquake because the hibachi stoves used in Haitian households went flying during the temblor, often spewing hot cooking oil in the process.

There was just one small burn clinic operating at the time, but BAN has refurbished and stocked it, and also built a physical and occupational therapy clinic at Cap Haitien’s Justinian University Hospital, the second-largest hospital in Haiti. Davis sent over Bergen County medical specialists, and arranged for tons of medical supplies to be shipped to Haiti. His aim is to upgrade the burn care system to a point where doctors can do skin grafting and care for more serious cases.

On his most recent trip, he brought along two Haitian-born émigré doctors. “It was amazing to see how disturbed the doctors were to see what had happened to their country,” Davis says.

A central goal of this visit was to introduce BAN’s specially-devised Burn Prevention Campaign to the 600,000 or so people still living in tent cities, which Davis describes as “fire hazards beyond belief.”

Even a relatively minor burn can be lethal in a country lacking adequate antibiotics or skin grafting capabilities, Davis says. And many parents delay proper treatment by taking their injured kids to voodoo shamans before medical doctors.

“So we realized the front line is really burn prevention. On our first three trips, we went to tent cities and met with families, took pictures, investigated how kids got burned, talked to community leaders, and saw that simple approaches could make a big difference.”

The campaign uses coloring books, posters, public service radio and TV spots featuring Haitian-themed characters, including a colorful firefighter parrot, to urge kids to stay outside an imaginary “magic circle” around the cooking stoves that are responsible for some 80 percent of Haitian children’s burns.

Accompanied by Teaneck resident Yves Joseph, otherwise known as FanFan Ti Bot of the Tabou Combo, Davis and his daughter Alana, an emergency medical technician, also made the prevention presentation to children at an orphanage at Madeline.

“It worked so perfectly,” Davis relates. “I introduced an Israeli nurse [Shirly Kahana], and FanFan, and announced that we’d do the first-ever Haiti hora. We had 40 kids led by Shirly in this humble gathering room, accompanied by a Haitian band. It was ‘Daveed Melech Yisrael’ [‘David, King of Israel’] with an Afro-Cuban flavor.”

At the hospitals, Davis and his team introduced standardized forms for documenting burn trauma in French and Creole, and educated burn patients and their families about the importance of physical therapy during their hospital stays. Without timely therapy, burn victims can become permanently crippled as a result of scar tissue growing over their wounds.

Davis discussed with Ministry of Health official Dr. Ernst Jasmin how to set up a communication and resource-sharing network among the nation’s 30 hospitals and 80 or so clinics equipped to treat burns. One aspect of this program allows for documenting and sharing the data on burn cases via digital cameras with built-in WiFi. Another aspect would enable reciprocal distance learning for doctors, nurses, and physical therapists.

“I’m optimistic that it’s all going to work,” says Davis, who hopes to obtain authorization to create a fourth-year residency rotation for Haitian medical students through an American burn center’s teaching program.

BAN also is sponsoring the construction of a burn center not far from Justinian.

Davis had stopped in Israel the month before to take part in Sababa, the summer camp for young burn victims that he helped establish in 2009. When he got to Haiti, he was surprised to discover a trauma center the Israeli international aid agency MASHAV built at Justinian to provide comprehensive emergency medical services.

“Everything inside it, from toilet tissue holders to chairs to sophisticated oxygen apparatus, were all made in Israel. It was wonderful to see how quietly Israel was still making a major difference, filling some of the holes in the Haitian trauma safety net – and there are a lot of holes in it,” says Davis. “It’s hard to describe the difference between this new 250-square-meter prefab critical care unit and the hospital that surrounds it. But from the faces of doctors and patients, I could tell it gave them a lot of hope in a place where sometimes hospitals have a reputation as a place to die rather than as a place to get well.”

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