BAPTIST SCHOOL OF HEALTH PROFESSIONS STUDENT ON FIRST NON MILITARY PLANE TO LAND IN HAITI AFTER HURRICANE
MATTHEW NEEL HERO
From August 19-27, I went to Port-Au-Prince Haiti to teach EMT classes and work on the ambulance. This is the first US standard EMT course being taught in the country. All the instructors and students are volunteers.
In October Hurricane Matthew was set to make landfall in Haiti. It was the first category 5 Atlantic hurricane since 2007 with sustained winds up to 160 mph. The strength of the hurricane along with the country’s hilly geography and poor infrastructure were a recipe for devastation. On Monday 3 October I received word from Haiti that they were preparing for the worst and were looking for assistance with search and rescue. The next day I flew to Miami and spent the night there. Wednesday, we flew to Port-Au-Prince. We were aboard the first nonmilitary plane to arrive in the country after the hurricane.
The airport was completely shut down with only a handful of workers on site. We were picked up from the airport in the ambulance and immediately got to work. We were called to transport a patient who had been flown into town on a private helicopter. The patient was a female in her early 20s who had a suffered a closed midshaft femur fracture and an open humerus fracture. We treated her with Ketamine for pain and transported her to a local hospital.
Wednesday evening, we were told that we were being sent to the southern peninsula of the island. This area was the hardest hit and there hadn’t been any communication with people in that area since before the storm. All roads had been destroyed, leaving that area cut off from the rest of the country. Our team was to be the first relief workers entering the area.
Thursday, we flew to a remote airstrip and hiked appx 10 miles to the town of Dame Marie. Our mission was to gather information about the damage that occurred, number of fatalities, injuries sustained, and to reopen the local hospital. The initial plan was to take a boat from the airstrip to the town however there weren’t any boats so we were forced to hike. Most houses had been destroyed and those that were still standing were flooded completely. We set up camp on the roof of a house that was still standing.
Friday, we met with the mayor of Dame Marie who took us to the hospital. The hospital had been looted twice leaving them with few supplies on top of the flood damage. We purchased $100 USD worth of antibiotics from the local pharmacy and hired locals to clean out the flooded ER. While the locals were cleaning the ER we began to treat patients in the courtyard. Most patients presented with lacerations from metal roofing flying through the air and from stepping on metal objects and broken glass. That day we treated patients until they stopped coming, approximately 60-70 in total. Another major concern for the people in the area was establishing clean drinking water. Most water tanks had been destroyed, leaving a river as the only source of water for the area. This water too was contaminated and had bodies of persons and livestock washing down from the mountains. We hired locals to build a fire in front of the hospital and had them begin to boil large pots of water. This was continued throughout the day and clean water was given to anyone in the town who wanted it. Every patient and family member who came to the ER was advised to boil their water to prevent the spread of Cholera and other diseases.
Saturday, we were replaced by another team and flew back to Port-Au-Prince and met with leaders from the government and major relief organizations and told them what we saw and the most pressing needs of the people. The next day there were more relief workers flying in on planes and helicopters as well as barges bringing in tons of food and supplies to the locals.
This trip was a wild and incredible experience. I am honored to have been a part of the relief effort and thankful for all of the support that I received from my friends, family, and classmates.