Haiti April 28 – May 5, 2018

2018 Haiti Team FAQs

Our combined US and Haitian team treated more than four hundred adult and pediatric patients, preformed twenty-five outpatient surgeries, ran more than six hundred diagnostic tests and dispensed more than twelve hundred packages of prescriptions and OTC pharmaceuticals. We referred other patients to various hospitals because our twenty-one suitcases full of supplies were insufficient to meet their needs. We helped a small group of impoverished people feel a bit better and may have saved a few lives.  We felt God’s presence many times during the course of this week.

The trip itself covered an eight-day period.  The planning took months and involved many people who deserve thanks. The First Presbyterian Church staff spent hours producing blurbs and articles, printing medical forms, working on trip finances and finally storing medical products that would end up in twenty-two suitcases that accompanied us to Haiti.  They also cleaned up the mess we made on packing day.

Members of our congregation and others donated suitcases, vitamins, eyes glasses, etc. that we took with us.  Through their pledges, our congregation purchased the products we used and dispensed.  Volunteers In Medicine helped us by facilitating our pharmaceutical and medical products orders. Cera Products donated oral rehydration powder, an essential tool in the treatment of tropical diseases. Burke’s Pharmacy donated hypertension medication.

Perhaps most importantly, people in our congregation and elsewhere prayed for our team.  For this, and other unmentioned support, we express our sincerest gratitude and thanks.  Blessings to all,

The 2018 FPC Haiti Mission Team,
Andrew Binamira, MD; Debbie Berling; Jens Martin Berling; Teresa Cayton, FNP; Pat Fall, PNP; Brian Fatzinger; Janice Fatzinger; Cathy Kelly; Jim Risko, MD; Helen Ryan, RN/PHD; Betsey Vinton, MD

2018 Haiti Team Epilogue

People often approach us and say something like: “That is a good thing that you do – going to Haiti. Those people are really lucky”. We smile politely, but know better. It turns out we are the lucky ones. We go to Haiti to witness, to live the Great Commandment, if only for one week. But, our Haitian brothers and sisters are often our teachers in matters of the Spirit. And, they set the bar very high.

We started the week attending a 7:30am worship service, packed with 1,500 people, shoulder to shoulder. They sing joyfully, pray enthusiastically and praise God fervently for that which they have been blessed. There are no empty seats in this House of the Lord.

The patient queue to see our providers at the clinic begins at 4:00am, or so I am told.  We don’t get there until 8:00am. Our patients sit outside in ninety degree heat until their names are called – maybe as late a 3:00pm. Once inside, they sit in crowded hallways, waiting yet again. Despite the wait and despite their suffering, they often offer a smile and a bonjour as we squeeze by. Later, after they have finally been treated, they offer their thanks and more smiles. Their gratitude spurs us on to work even harder for them.

As mentioned in the Wednesday blog, one of our physicians and his interpreter transported a critically ill patient, on oxygen, to the hospital. The hospital demanded more cash than our physician had in his possession to pay for our patient’s care. Our interpreter, a young Haitian man, emptied his pockets as well, in order to ensure that this woman would receive treatment. Later, this young man repeatedly refused to accept our reimbursement, even though the amount he contributed was statistically significant considering his overall resources. “After all’, he explained, “you leave your homes and families, and spend your money to travel to Haiti to care for our neediest people. How could I not also contribute?”

One day after work, another interpreter proudly showed us his new home, his ‘palace’, as he called it. He explained that when he was a young, his parents had no money to send him to school. In his early teens, he was forced to leave home. There was neither room nor food for both him and his younger siblings. So, he sought shelter with relatives and friends. He was frequently locked out of these places as well, spending many nights outside, exposed to the elements. He worked hard and prayed for a better future. His home, by Port-au-Prince slums standards, is a palace. The floor is concrete instead of dirt. His home has three rooms, a bedroom, a classroom and a bathroom (very rare in the slums). After finally getting an education, he now teaches math and physics to children who are too poor to attend school, using the classroom in his own home. He proudly displays the key to his home, saying “I will never be locked out again”. And, he thanks the Lord for his many blessings.

The takeaway from these and other stories too numerous to recite from this week is this. There is no correlation between a life lived in gratitude and service to our Lord, and the accumulation of worldly possessions. Our team has truly been blessed by the living sermon preached by our Haitian brothers and sisters.

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti

Friday, May 4, 2018

Emotions swing back and forth on Friday.  We work enthusiastically because there is much left to do.  We have moments of melancholy.  This is the last day we will work together as a team this year.  We will say “good bye” to new and old friends.  Tomorrow we go home.

Our goal is to finish treating our last patient by noon on this Friday. There is still much to do after all the patients are gone. We also want to squeeze in the visit to the Aparent Project, which was missed on Wednesday.

We cleared our last patient before one o’clock. Then we sat down for our farewell lunch with our Haitian teammates. We thanked our Haitian team again for the critical role they play in caring for our patients.  We then presented them with the Certificates of Appreciation we prepared the previous evening. In some cases, a few tears are shed over poignant, shared memories. The presentation itself is joyous, replete with high fives and good natured ribbing. This time is cherished. Haitian team members express their thanks and appreciation to us for leaving the comfort of our homes and families to provide care and treatment for the sick and infirm in Haiti.  I marvel at the generous hearts and gracious spirits of our Haitian friends.  We take team photos, shake hands and share hugs.  Then we part company. Most of the Haitian team depart for home.

The US teammates and a few Haitians stay behind to count the remaining medical, surgical and pharmaceutical inventories so supplies can be replenished for the next team. We are tired, but work hard and are finished by 2:30pm. Then we are finally off to the Aparent Project, a company that employs widows and widowers, and provides daycare for their employees’ pre-school children – an unheard of benefit in Haiti. We purchase souvenirs and mementos for our trip, assured that the money is going to a good cause. Then we share a pizza dinner and fellowship with our drivers and two remaining interpreters/guides.

We depart the Aparent Project a bit earlier than scheduled because rain is coming. It is a forty-five minute drive back to our guest house and we don’t want to get caught in the inevitable flooding. Once settled in at the guest house, we meet for one last devotional, sharing stories of the incredible experiences we have shared. Dry eyes were in scarce supply.

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti

Thursday, May 3, 2018

This is our next to last day in the clinic. The week is going by so quickly. This day is poignant because there so much yet to do in Haiti. And, we only have one more day.

Our schedule on this Thursday included a tour one of the Haiti Outreach Ministries elementary school and the new high school. HOM’s primary focus is community building through faith and education, the main building blocks needed to create change in third world countries. Our medical mission work is but a small cog in a much larger wheel.

First, we visited three and five year-old class rooms. The five year-olds were practicing cursive. Their penmanship put ours to shame. I know…you might be tempted to point out that penmanship on a medical team is not a very high standard, but still…

We mingled with both groups, impressed with their disciplined behavior and the curriculum. Then we were on to the new HOM high school. The seventh, eighth and ninth grade classrooms were filled with Haiti’s future. The tenth and eleventh grade building is nearing completion, thanks to the generosity of Palm Presbyterian in Jacksonville.  Funding for the twelfth and thirteenth grade building, and the vocational school are still being developed.  It is a miracle that kids in the worst slums of Western Hemisphere actually have the opportunity to go to high school, much less a trade school. We learned that HOM now has eighteen hundred and fifty students in school.

Thursday is a busy clinic day.  We are seeing new patients and also conducting follow up visits.  In all, we saw more than ninety patients today.  It is noteworthy that we ran the first batch of surgical instruments through the brand new steam sterilizer, which was purchased using funds from First Presbyterian Church’s Missions Ministry. Dr. Jim and Helen were so pleased to have access to this critical piece of operating room equipment.

After dinner, we conducted an activity-based devotion. Several team members walked over to the House of Hope to mingle with a group of orphaned girls. Dr. Andrew conducted medical exams on six of the folks who work at the guest house compound.

As the sun went down we all met back at the main room of the guest house to prepare Certificates of Appreciation for our interpreters and other team support folks. These certificates are from First Presbyterian Church and are signed by Pastor Doug.  We each sign all the certificates, adding personal notes to those with whom we worked most closely.

As I close to get ready for bed, hard rains are falling in the area and the internet is out again. So, you will probably not see this post until tomorrow or the next day.


Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Today we were planning to work a half day. Once all our patients were seen, our plan was to travel to the Aparent Project, a factory where single spouses are employed and their children receive daycare and schooling. There we would hunt for mementos of our trip in the gift shop.  Well, this is Haiti – where the best laid plans are often for naught.

The day started well. The school children began singing in the courtyard our guest house shares with the school sometime before 7am.  A bit later, we reminded the Haitian members of our team that we were not really a complete mission team until we were together. We all donned “What Would Jesus Do” wristbands to remind us that we were all one team and that our focus is always on our patient. We were psyched and ready to go when the patient visits began.

A young woman learned she was pregnant. Unlike yesterday, this was joyous news. A mother came in with her ten pound 14 day-old son for his first well baby exam. Despite mom having no prenatal care and giving birth at home, her baby boy was thriving. Then the proverbial wheels came off.

First, we realized that more patients were scheduled that we could serve in the budgeted time. Undeterred, we soldiered on. Later in the morning, a young female patient arrived in respiratory distress. She could barely breathe and her blood oxygen levels were precariously low, putting her in real danger of ‘coding’ at any moment. Oxygen was administered followed by meds and treatments. Once the patient was stabilized, Dr. Andrew accompanied her to a hospital in the team tap-tap. Once there, the patient was refused treatment until her bills were paid for, in advance. It took more than an hour, and all the money our team members had in their possession, to straighten out the finances so our patient could be seen. Dr. Andrew and our interpreter were both distraught over the callous nature of this experience.

A short time latter, after seeing numerous really sick patients, an infant had to be stabilized and then sent to the hospital. A different hospital was chosen for this patient. Then a young man walked in with a severe finger laceration. Dr. Jim prepped the young man for surgery and went to work repairing the damage. Our day was fast slipping away. We were down one provider and dealing with a heavy patient load. Despite our best efforts, it was clear we were not going to get done in time to make our planned memento shopping trip.

We finally arrived home, tired and a bit grumpy. One of our teammates, Cathy, had brought stuffed animals for orphaned living at the House of Hope, a group loosely associated with HOM.  It was a great photo op and mood improver. Dinner and our devotion got us back on the right track.  Dr. Betsey led our devotion. She read several scriptures including: John 21:15 – When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus emphasized his message by repeating his question and his instruction to Peter two additional times. That seemed to be our ‘reset’ button. Our team wristband reads “What Would Jesus Do?” We don’t always get it right. But, we persist in our efforts to hear his call.

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

So it is with our team…doctors, nurse practitioners, a nurse, lay people and last but not least, our interpreters, all working together to provide quality care and a comforting hand to our patients.  We each possess gifts without which the team could not function. Early in the day when some are not yet busy, people pitch in to make up pill packs for dispensing later in the day. Later in the day, when pharmacy is slammed with a backlog of prescriptions to fill, additional hands got the job done.

We experienced heavy rains last night, apparently washing huge volumes of trash onto the main road through Cite Soleil. The government decided to close the road so the trash could be cleared. That decision, in turn, required that we take a detour, driving straight through the heart of the slum. The sights and odors shocked our senses. The squalor these folks live in is unfathomable. We were passing by the living quarters (if you could call it that) of the patients we were going to see today. Debbie and Jan, our triage team, were amazed that folks living in the conditions we witnessed could actually come to clinic in clean clothes and be presentably groomed.

Once again we were very busy, officially seeing ninety-six patients, although a couple additional patients may have slipped in under the radar. We saw a broad spectrum of maladies including shingles, injuries, abscesses, infections and viruses. The gratitude shown by our patients fueled us with fresh desire to do our very best to help them.

A mission trip such as this one is not all happy moments. Our team does not have the resources we are accustomed to back home. Thus we elected to send a second patient to the hospital. This patient was a young girl with an acute abscess in her neck which was gradually impinging upon her airway and arteries. An unmarried, young woman discovered she was pregnant today. The baby is not wanted. Haiti does not have support and counseling resources for women who need such services. These are just two of many stories about things we cannot fix. So, we pray. We pray for the best possible outcomes when no perfect solutions are available. And we continue to apply our individual gifts to make the team far greater than the sum of its parts.

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti

Monday, April 30, 2018

Alarms chimed at 6am, adding to the chorus of crowing roosters and barking dogs.  The designated lunch crew went up to the dining area and made lunches for the entire Haitian/US team.  Fourteen ham and cheese sandwiches and ten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were made in assembly line fashion.

The rest of us wandered up soon after to partake in a breakfast of pancakes, boiled eggs and fruits.  Kids were already starting to congregate in the school yard below. The joyful noise brightened our day.  At 7:30am we departed for the clinic.

The first day of clinic is approached with equal parts of apprehension and enthusiasm.  We are apprehensive because we are a team of twenty-two people who have never before worked together.  And we have no idea what maladies are currently afflicting our patients. We are enthusiastic because we are called by our Lord and Savior to help those less fortunate than ourselves and in the process, share God’s love with each other.

We arrived at the clinic to a throng of people queued up to see us.  It would take us an entire day to see everyone in the line.  We are not enchanted that some folks must wait hours in the heat to see us, but that is the Haitian way.

Our providers met with Dr. Quency, the Haitian medical director for a briefing on ailments that are most prevalent at this point in time.  We then introduced ourselves to our interpreters and began preparing our work stations to see patients.

Before we were actually ready to see patients, challenges arose. A man suffering from severe asthma could not breathe. A woman with an acute abscess was writhing in pain. Other patients had lesser, yet still serious complaints.  Despite not yet being familiar with where all our supplies were located, we scrambled to meet the need.  By mid morning, most of the major hurdles were overcome.  By lunch time we were a battle-tested team.

By the end of the day we had seen one hundred ten patients, performed seven surgeries, ran more than a hundred tests and dispensed several hundred prescriptions. The asthmatic man was out of immediate, although not well enough to be sent home.  We went to the hospital instead for further treatment not available from us. The woman with the acute abscess ended up as one of our surgery patients. She went home in significantly less pain and was no longer at risk of losing her hand.

The take away from our experience today is summed up in the following scripture from 1 Corinthians 12:12: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

This morning we were challenged with obstacles that no one person could overcome. Yet, working together as one body, united by Christ, we found solutions to help alleviate the suffering of our patients.


Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The alarm rang at 5:30am this morning.  After donning our Sunday best and grabbing a quick breakfast, we walked across the courtyard to our first church service in Terre Noire. The sanctuary was filling quickly. Shortly after we were seated, every pew was full. The service is in Kreyol, a language based on French.  So, while we didn’t understand all that was said, we could pick up bits and pieces of the message.  Our team was acknowledged and thanked for our willingness to serve.  We shared communion with our Haitian brethren, always a moving experience.  One of the hymns this morning was “How Great Thou Art”. This was a special treat for us because we could sing in English while our hosts were singing in Kreyol.  After the Lord’s Supper and the offering, we departed for Rapatriate, the newest community in the Haiti Outreach Ministries group of communities.  The Repatriate church and the school have grown rapidly. Even though both churches share the same lectionary, the services were different enough to make the second service was as enjoyable as the first.

After the second service, we headed back to the guest house to change clothes and load all the clinical supplies into our van.  We dropped the supplies at the HOM clinic in Cite Soleil and then went to eat lunch at the Palm Restaurant with our drivers and interpreters. After a good lunch and fine fellowship we headed back to the clinic.

We cleaned exam rooms and sorted many suitcases of supplies. We then tackled the arduous task of setting up the various exam rooms, pharmacy, lab and surgery room to see patients on Monday morning.  After most of the work was completed, a small group departed for the Deli-Mart, a supermarket where we pick up lunch supplies for the week.  This particular task went surprisingly smoothly this year.  After loading up the groceries necessary to feed lunch to more than twenty-four people for a week, we loaded ourselves and our groceries into the tap-tap and finally made it back to our guest house. We were all pretty exhausted.

As usual, dinner was excellent.  After dinner we picked up a second wind.  We decided that our devotion would be a short walk to the House of Hope. The House of Hope is a home for orphaned girls. The home’s director and chief mom is quick to point out that it is not an orphanage but a new family environment for these fifteen girls. The residents are thriving. House of Hope is always an uplifting experience and we may visit it again before the week is out. The walk back depleted most of our second wind and we were soon off the showers and bed.  As a post script, heavy rains that began shortly after our return to the guest house knocked out our internet. So, you will see this post a day late, assuming we get our internet connection reestablished tomorrow.

Blog 2

Blog 1

Dateline: Hilton Head Island, Savannah and Port-au-Prince Haiti

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Travel day is fraught with anxiety. We generally sleep poorly on the eve or our travel, worrying about all the things that could go wrong; flight delays, lost luggage containing mission critical supplies and pandemonium at the Port-au-Prince airport, just to name a few. Added to our list of anxieties was the sad news that one of our medical providers, Charlotte White, was sick and was not able to make the trip. We worried about her recovery and how we would deal with the loss of her skills and her heart.

As the day unfolded, it turns out that most of our worries were for naught. We had great weather, on time, safe flights and all our suitcases filled with medical supplies arrived the same time we did.

We arrived at the Haiti Outreach Ministries guest house in our tap-taps, got settled and went about sorting out all the supplies in preparation for setting up the clinic tomorrow. Later we enjoyed one of my favorite Haitian meals, pumpkin soup.

After dinner we settled in to read and discuss our devotion for this day. This particular scripture is from Isaiah 40:10,

 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 40:10.

Our take away is this. We should have read this particular verse the day before. We probably would have slept better. We are not in control, God is. All we can control is our attitude. That said, we are still sad that one of our veterans is sick and missed the trip. We pray for her recovery and resolve to take up the slack.

Before calling it a night, new team members and veterans shared brief backgrounds and spiritual journeys that led them to serve in Haiti. I am humbled to be a part of this talented and caring team.

Dateline: Hilton Head Island

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Haiti packing day was a success, thanks in part to the congregation’s response to our request of suitcases.  We broke down cases and boxes of medical, surgical and diagnostic supplies, repackaging them into Zip-lock bags.  Twenty-one donated suitcases were filled with these mission critical supplies. Left over space was dedicated to educational supplies and toys for the children in the Haiti Outreach Ministries schools and the House of Hope girl’s home.  We did a final review of our travel procedures and carpool assignments to the airport. After three hours of hard work, everything was packed and the suitcases were loaded in our cars. We look forward to next Saturday’s departure to Haiti with great anticipation.