Mike Suszter is a senior Orthopaedic Surgery Resident in Riverside, California and recently returned from a volunteer trip at Hopital Adventiste.
One day in September I was contacted by my residency director, Dr. Wade Faerber, and asked if I would like to join him in Haiti with Dr. Scott Nelson. Being familiar with Dr. Nelson and having heard about previous trips to Haiti I jumped at the opportunity, brushed up on my French, and expedited a new passport.
In the weeks prior to the trip I was filled with nervous excitement and was not sure what to expect. I had what seemed to be a million questions. What would the country be like? How had Haiti rebounded from the earthquake? What kind of food would there be? The days before the trip I found myself frantically packing and trying to anticipate every need (bug spray, surgical attire, snacks, and of course extra batteries for the camera).
Upon arriving in Haiti I was welcomed with 95 degree heat and 90% humidity. We were then picked up and escorted to the hospital. On the way from the airport I had my first exposure to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian people, and culture. The city was alive with people similar to worker bees around a honey hive. The sights, sounds, and smells were unbelievable. The city was alive with millions of people all working hard to help each other. Whether it was selling fruit at the market or filling tires at the side of the road everyone was busy and working hard…which was a small amount of foreshadowing for my week.
Upon arrival to the hospital, we were greeted by numerous volunteers from all around the world. Each brought a special gift/talent to the hospital and the Haitian people. At a hospital one would expect nurses, doctors, and prosthetists to be among the volunteers, which there were many, but in addition there were physical therapists, architects, electricians, medical students, and theology students. It was amazing to learn about the many projects and experiences all these volunteers had to share.
After we claimed our sleeping quarters, our group was eager to go out and experience Haiti. On a hike, led by Dr. Nelson, we trekked through the small villages and mountains of Haiti. Being out of shape I certainly struggled up and down the mountains, but once to the top we were all re-energized at the beautiful sites that overwhelmed our optic nerves. Who would have thought that a country so devastated by natural disaster 2 years ago would be so peaceful and beautiful?
The following 6 days were mainly work days at the hospital. We started off with a clinic day where we saw an amazing array of patients. There were patients with untreated injuries from the earthquake, congenital disorders, acute injuries, and infections. As our Creole/French was not very impressive, we worked hand in hand with several local Haitians who acted as our translators/cast techs. I was very impressed with their work ethic, compassion, and casting capabilities. I was also surprised at the immense amount of technology that had been obtained by the hospital since the earthquake. Heck, the portable x-ray machine was far better that the ones we have at our institution.
Throughout or clinic day we amassed an entire week’s worth of surgery. As to not bore you with all the surgical details, we worked tirelessly for 4 straight days in the OR to help as many people as possible. Our surgical case list was quite varied, from spine fractures to limb alignment surgeries. Working with Drs. Nelson and Faerber was fun, educational, and……..well one of the greatest surgical experiences ever!!!!! One of the most memorable moments came after we had done a surgery on a young girl with Blounts Disease (bow legs). After surgery we wheeled her out to the recovery room and found her mom, who immediately started crying (tears of joy) and gave Dr. Nelson a giant hug of appreciation. That moment reminded me how much of an impact we can have on people’s lives.
That week we did many surgeries (big and small) and made just a small scratch in the need for orthopedic care in Haiti. Throughout my trip I was amazed at the state of the art care that was being provided in a small 18 bed hospital in the middle of a third world country. It re-energized me, encouraged me, and exposed me to medicine in the third world.
After 7 days it was finally time for us to return home and upon getting back to my house I emptied my suitcase and did a survey of the things I had brought back with me:
1. 2 metal fish ornaments
2. 10 bug bites
3. 700 pictures
4. About 15 new friendships
5. A million stories
6. Most importantly a desire to volunteer my time in the future to this and other
volunteer programs around the world
L to R: Mike Suszter, Wade Faerber, Scott Nelson, Francel AlexisIn the coming months I may forget the French that I brushed up on but I will never forget the amazing pride and friendliness of the Haitian people and drive of the volunteers/employees at the hospital and can hardly wait for the next trip.
I would like to thank LLUMC, Dr. Nelson, Dr. Faerber, and all my patients for allowing me the opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.