My Journey to Haiti
BIDMC staff members go above and beyond to care for patients every day. Many staff spend their "spare time" continuing the mission of BIDMC outside the walls of the medical center. In fact, over the last few months, many have taken their skills and expertise global.
From teaching a team approach to saving limbs among diabetics in Vietnam, to joining a "No Pain Labor and Delivery" effort in China, to performing HIV tests and caring for orphaned children in Haiti, and helping to establish a cardiovascular-metabolic risk reduction program in Kenya, BIDMC staff members have been busy.
Over the next few days, we will highlight those activities.
By Cindy Miers, RN, Emergency Department
My journey to Haiti was nothing short of life-changing.
Years ago, when Greg Ciottone, MD, Emergency Department, told me about the Gengel family and the Be Like Brit orphanage, I knew that I wanted to become involved.
In memory of 19-year-old Britney Gengel, Be Like Brit is a nonprofit organization serving the children of Haiti by providing a safe, nurturing and sustainable orphanage in an environment where they can grow, learn and thrive. Britney’s compassion for others brought her to Haiti just one day before a catastrophic earthquake claimed her life and the lives of approximately 230,000 others in 2010.
I began following the progress of the orphanage on Facebook, and engrossed myself in the incredible story of Britney Gengel. At the same time, as a graduate student, I knew I would eventually be working on a capstone project. I decided the time I would be dedicating to this endeavor would be devoted to the children of Haiti. Together, with Ciottone and Mike Bouton, who just completed his Emergency Medicine residency at BIDMC, we created a feeding program for underweight, malnourished children in Haiti.
When I realized my dream of visiting the orphanage would come true on April 28 of this year, I was thrilled. In order to raise funds to offset some of the costs associated with my trip, Be Like Brit set up a fundraising page for me, with remaining funds to be directly donated to the orphanage. I was astounded by the support I received from family and friends. I almost immediately had more than enough money donated to cover my trip, and was delighted to see that I had raised additional money for the orphanage.
Arriving at the airport and meeting the team was so exciting. I was easily able to spot the yellow “Britsionary” t-shirts, and received an instant smile and welcome from Kristen, the director who was working to organize the many hockey bags full of supplies for Haiti. The group I was traveling with was off to help build a home on Be Like Brit property for Jackson, one of the employees who had a wife and two daughters living in very poor conditions.
The journey to the orphanage was intense! Between the airport, the drive, and seeing Port au Prince for the first time, I imagine I looked like a deer in headlights for the first several hours. The director reassured me and I felt very safe with her and the rest of the team.
As we drove up the hill and the Be Like Brit orphanage came into view, a smile came across my face that would not leave me for the next several hours to come. Not only was it one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen, the sounds of 28 angels from inside began filling the air singing, “we are happy to see you.”
Walking in was like a dream, my heart bursting with joy and love. The children and staff were so welcoming, and so happy to see us. I received more hugs in the first ten minutes of my arrival than I had in the last month! As I snuggled the first little one to wrap her arms around me, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I began working in the Child in Hand Clinic, a program set up by Ciottone at the orphanage to serve the children and staff at Be Like Brit. Here, I saw all 28 children for wellness visits and performed HIV testing on those who had not yet been tested, and even a few malaria tests for those showing signs of illness. I treated the kids and staff for a range of complaints and even provided IV hydration to one of my fellow Britsionaries who became dehydrated while working in the sun all day.
Two days on my trip were spent working in the Mission of Hope International Medical Clinic where I was able to see and treat several people ranging from infants to older adults. Some of the more common ailments included cough/cold symptoms, abdominal pain, skin rashes and infections and fevers.
While I was at the clinic, one woman came rushing in with her 8-month-old baby girl who was almost unresponsive with fluid in her lungs and a high fever. She was clearly hypoxic and needed airway protection to save her life. When I asked for oxygen, an infant ambu bag, and/or suction capabilities and was told we didn’t have it, I realized just how incredibly resource-poor we were; I did not have the tools I needed to save this baby.
I told the nurse who runs the clinic that this baby was going to die unless we could get her to a hospital. One man who spoke English heard me and immediately went running outside to find someone, anyone, to get this baby to the hospital. The next thing I knew, the mother and baby were on the back of a man’s motorcycle speeding down the streets of Haiti toward the hospital. I’m not sure how the baby did after this incident, but I know this was an experience that I’ll never forget.
During down time, we participated in recreational activities such as a hike to the river, a trip to the local market, a beach day, and of course, plenty of time to play with the beautiful children at the Be Like Brit orphanage.
As the week came to an end – seeing Jackson’s house nearing completion with a new basketball hoop, and all 28 children happy and healthy – I became aware of just how much I would miss this place.
A dance party with the children on our last night in Grand Goave was just what we needed to celebrate and to bring this incredible journey to a close. The next day as we said our goodbyes and received our final hugs, cuddles and smiles from 28 angels, I knew for sure I would be back.