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When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti in January, members of the UCLA healthcare community responded by volunteering to go help. Some went as part of an organized UCLA effort – Operation Haiti – while others traveled on their own or with other non-governmental organizations. Whether they worked on board the U.S. Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort or from a tent on the ground in Port-au-Prince, each volunteer went with an open heart and outstretched hand to the beleaguered Haitian people. Many filed blogs and took photographs.Here, in their own words and pictures, is a journal of their experiences.

Once we started driving through Port-au-Prince, you just felt the emptiness and the devastation that had happened there. Just tent city … tents everywhere. — BITA ZADEH, M.D.

It was very, very hot, and when we arrived, we saw different areas where the smoke was coming up really thick. And so, we asked, “What is burning over there?” and they said, “They’re funeral fires.” — PATTI TAYLOR, R.N.

I went to the peds floor [on board the USNS Comfort] … and just held the kids because a lot of them didn’t have family. They had nothing. Their parents were dead. Their siblings were dead. They didn’t know where their parents were. They didn’t know where their siblings were. They didn’t have people taking care of them. They didn’t have somebody tucking them in at night. And it broke my heart to see that. It broke my heart. — JESSICA KUBISCH, R.N.

A baby [brought on board the USNS Comfort] had been buried for three days, and her mom wouldn’t give up looking for her. And they had brought her to the Comfort to have surgery, but she’d been in the field hospital for several days. And the mom told us that when they had found her she … was moving air but breathing very lightly. And so, the neighbors had told her to throw her in the garbage because [they thought] she was gone. — SHANNON MCCARVILLE, R.N.

We went to the orphanage. And the little kids came up with their arms up in the air, and we thought maybe they wanted candy or something. They kept putting their hands up, and then we realized they just wanted to be picked up and held. And they just cling to you. And all they wanted was to be held. — KERRY GOLD-TSAKONAS, R.N.

Up at the top of the mountain, they had this great need. They have had no medical care. They can’t get to them. So we drove up there on the first day and there was already a line of people waiting for us ’cause they heard we were coming. We set up our pharmacy in one area, our treatment in the other area. My triage area was a rickety pair of stairs, and we just started seeing patients. I think we saw probably 140 patients that day in maybe five hours, and then we had to promise we’d come back the next day ’cause there were lines of people waiting for us, which was really hard to turn them away. — KERRY GOLD-TSAKONAS, R.N.

Suffering unites humanity.JESSICA KUBISCH, R.N

I was walking through the compound. It was the end of the day. It was about four or five o’clock in the afternoon, and there were people flying a kite … a little group of people, and here’s a kite up in the sky. I just couldn’t believe it. It just seemed so hopeful.BARBARA BATES-JENSEN, R.N.

We went all over Port-au-Prince. We took a few duffel bags, a card table, a few chairs and just set up shop wherever we felt needed it, whether it was in a cinderblock building in the slums or on the streets. — KAYLA VANDERGRIFT, R.N.

The first thing that struck me was the odor from the tent. … The weather was about 95 degrees with huge humidity, and so the air inside the tents didn’t move much. … The next thing that struck me was just how beautiful the Haitian people are. They’re an extremely beautiful and graceful people as a whole. And the third thing was the wounds that were going on when I walked into the woundprocedure room … [a] huge number of orthopaedic injuries and huge number of amputations. — BARBARA BATES-JENSEN, R.N.

The Haitian culture is warm, welcoming and resilient. Almost every patient welcomed us with a smile. It is amazing how the people are able to tell us their story of the earthquake in such a calm voice and then continue on with their day. — KAYLA BANDERGRIFT, R.N. 

The wound care that we provided to the patients, while necessary, was intensely painful. In the afternoons, usually around four or five o’clock, you’d be doing your bedside rounds to try to change the dressings on patients, and your patients would all be there, with their arms raised in the air, singing. After that singing, the entire attitude within the tent would change, and it would be really difficult to do things as invasive as some of the wound care that we provided. — BARBARA BATES-JENSEN, R.N.

Here is how it works: Just don’t even think of showering in the morning. The humidity is so intense, you’re sweating before you even get on the bus. The heat in the tents becomes nearly unbearable by midday, and the only thing keeping you going is the knowledge you’re really making a difference in these people’s lives. They need us, so we’re here for them. You just drink some water and keep going. — KENWAY HEYDEN, R.N.

The strength of the Haitian people is incredible. The wards are filled with hymns. Family members are quick to assist the nurses, and to provide any aid they can for the other patients. ... After being [on board the USNS Comfort], where they have plenty of medicine, food, shelter and water, they bravely return to the uncertainty of the land without complaint. They give back to us all that they have — a smile and a thank you. — BETHANY FONTENOT, R.N.

I wanted them to know that a lot of people cared about them. We wanted to make a difference. We wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. — KATHLEEN WEINSTEIN, R.N. 

The tragedy of Haiti’s poverty has been magnified by the devastation of the earthquake, which destroyed what little these people had, leaving them injured, maimed and crippled, but not alone. The world has responded to beautiful, marred Haiti’s plight. Struggling desperately against all odds, Haitians will need support and aid for years to come as they rebuild their country, their country that, as one Haitian woman described it, fell on them.JESSICA KUBISCH, R.N. 

To watch a video about of the volunteers’ experiences, go to: www.uclahealth.org/haiti


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