Residents suffer and die from illnesses that could be easily treated by modern medicine.
Brian Rogers, 30, a fourth-year Howard medical student, spent a day treating residents of Dérac, patiently taking blood pressure readings, giving diagnosis and talking through an interpreter with mothers about their children.
“I was so overwhelmed,” said Rogers, a Durham, N.C., native who plans to be an anesthesiologist. “You’re there and you realized no matter how much you did, it wasn’t going to make a dent in that community’s health care or all the things they need medically. Yes, we helped some people, but it was like putting a Koolaid package in the ocean. It’s not going to make it sweeter or change it at all.”
Dr. Nadine Vidor, a medical resident at Howard University Hospital, spent most of her day there working with the elderly. She has been on medical missions before in impoverished communities in Nigeria. She had seen poverty. She had seen despair. Still, Dérac touched her. There was one child in particular.
“We had treated everybody and we were on the bus getting ready to leave,” she said. “Earlier, part of the mission had given away all these soccer balls and soccer clothes and shoes. This one boy got there late. He came up to the bus and all he wanted was a ball. We didn’t have anymore.
“He started crying and saying, ‘Please, just one ball. One ball.’ I felt so bad. Kids in the states have all these toys and all this boy wanted was one ball, any kind of ball. Just a ball.”
Looking around, it’s hard to believe that Dérac was once a relatively prosperous community. The bay in which it sits was once the site of the Caribbean’s largest sisal plantation. The plant was used to make rope, and the U.S. Navy was one of the area’s biggest customers. But when nylon was invented in 1935, it quickly replaced sisal for rope and the plantation went out of business.
The community tried to retool by making baseballs, but former dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier had the plant moved to Port-au-Prince, and the community was doomed.
Dr. Steven Liverpool, 55, a long-time volunteer with the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, was one of the first doctors to set foot on Dérac.
He’s seen what in the U.S. would be minor infections have major effects on the people because of lack of treatment.
“You will see a lot of the young girls with one eye scarred because of conjunctivitis (pink eye),” he said. “They’re eye has been damaged because it wasn’t treated. I saw one woman with conjunctivitis with us just pouring out of her eyes.”
Probably the worst case was that of a woman who died after birth due to post-pardon sepsis, infection.
“It’s an infection after delivery, simple stuff,” said Liverpool, who practices in New York City. “She died of infection because it wasn’t treated, and it wasn’t treated because there was nothing to treat it with. It almost made me cry to think that this woman’s daughter grew up an orphan because of something so easy to treat.”