Friday, February 26, 2010

"Johnny D."

Every hospital ward has stories of that one patient who gripped the hearts of the whole staff. In the pediatric ward aboard the USNS Comfort, that patient is a feisty little boy with no name, no known identity at all.

“He was dropped off at an orphanage after the earthquake. That’s all we know about him,” explains Navy nurse Susanna “Q” Sutherland. “And he was clearly not treated well.”

His skin was mottled. He had a huge tumor on his right eye and a white film over his left. His dental condition led doctors to believe that he was about ten years old, but he fit into size 3T clothes. He didn’t speak at first. “We all thought he was blind and deaf,” said, Sutherland, who was with him from day one and became one of his core group of substitute mothers.

He had to either be held constantly or not touched at all and he threw raging tantrums. “He was a wild man,” said Navy doctor Jeff Miles, describing a nearly feral child. “He wouldn’t eat or drink for three days. He had to be on an IV.”

Staff tried unsuccessfully to locate his family and eventually named him John Doe. The boy quickly became known as “Johnny D.”

Johnny’s tests revealed Xeroderma Pigmentosa—an extremely rare condition that renders skin incredibly sensitive to UV rays. This was also the source of the tumor covering his eye.

Change was incremental but steady. Project HOPE volunteer Carrie Alexander, a pediatric nurse practitioner and one of his caretakers, patiently sat with him during mealtime. The first time he ate, it was nothing but graham crackers-- for an entire week. Alexander and other staff supplemented his diet with Pedia Sure and taught him how to sit down at a table, drink from a cup, and leave unwanted scraps on a napkin rather than the floor.

Doctors operated on his tumor. Johnny’s right eye was removed in the process, but so was the growth on his face that nurses suggest might have initially scared other kids away.

As he became stronger, his outbursts became less angry and more playful. Staff began to swing by the ward on their hours off just to receive a Johnny D. fist bump—Haiti’s high five and Johnny’s signature greeting. Gifts of clothes, stuffed animals, even a red superhero cape began to pile on his bunk.

“The best part is seeing how he interacts in his environment,” explains Alexander, as Johnny raced back and forth across the room behind her pushing a wheeled stool with another little boy. “He plays with other kids now.”

Wednesday, Johnny was well enough to leave the ship for his new home: Mission of Hope for Haiti. The head of the Comfort’s medical mission, Captain James Ware, personally came down to the boat launch for a final hug.

During his ride to shore, he sat quietly in the boat, allowed a Dora the Explorer life jacket to be put on him. As the Comfort receded behind, Johnny made a round of the boat, fist bumping every passenger he could reach.

Story and photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Personal Loss Drives HOPE Volunteer Claude Hillel

To call Project HOPE volunteer Claude Hillel “driven” would be an understatement.

A physical therapist practicing at NYSportsMed & Physical Therapy, Hillel was born in Montreal, Canada, to a Haitian mother and Turkish/British father. A strapping man with an unexpectedly gentle manner, he is not only fluent in English and French, but Creole, Portuguese and Italian.

During the Haiti quake, he lost three members of his family, including a ten-year-old cousin, who celebrating the birthday of his elderly aunt were in Port-au-Prince—a party he had considered attending himself. Many other guests died. The ice cream manufacturing plant owned by his uncle was destroyed.

“I felt helpless”

So he signed up on the volunteer rosters of a dozen Haiti-relief agencies, bought $1,000 worth of camping gear, persuaded a medical supply company that he often deals with to donate bandages and other supplies, and set off—with 30 suitcases and a one-way ticket to Florida. Once there, he camped out in the executive travel terminal and eventually bummed a ride in a private jet to the Dominican Republic.

It was at this point that he got the call from Project HOPE to volunteer in the physical therapy ward of the USNS Comfort.

“The work I do is with athletes, not amputees,” he says. Anticipating this need before he left New York, Hillel had gotten himself up to speed reading studies about rehabilitation for amputees. According to the Haitian government, 6,000 to 8,000 people have lost limbs or digits due to the quake.

“The research has been invaluable,” he says. Hillel learned the correct way to wrap an amputated limb in order for it to heal in a manner for it to fit into a prosthesis.

He is now teaching others the new techniques he has learned. While visiting Foyer St. Camille-- a hospital in Port-au-Prince run by an Italian religious order-- he fashioned a “limb” from a plastic bag filled with scrubs. Haitian nurse Pierre Gills Marie Will Edwin watched as Hillel slowly wound an Ace bandage in a cris-cross pattern around the lower half. “It’s all about practice,” he emphasized, handing off the roll to Will Edwin to try.

“Wrapping is not difficult, but I’m finding so many cases of it not being done at all here,” says Claude. “I’ve actually talked to health care workers here who say that since the population can’t afford prosthetics, why prepare a patient to use one?”

He is focused on the message that there are no limits to what a person can do. “There is a major stigma here in Haiti for handicapped people— a definite ceiling,” he says. “Today I visited a hospital where there was a boy who had been hit by debris during the quake. He was able to move his legs but he had been told not to try to walk. I put a therapy belt on him and walked him around. His mother thought that I was performing miracles. She was so happy.”

He dreams about a team of American or Canadian amputees visiting Haiti to demonstrate all of the things that they are still able to do. Until that time, Hillel will keep working on the miracles.

Story and photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Not Always About the Rescue

The two voices did their best to fill the nearly empty ward with song, “Jesus loves me loves me still, though I’m very weak and ill.” Sniffling, dim fluorescent lighting, and a single patient. “From his shining throne on high, comes to watch me where I lie.”

Yolande Dalencour, 88, came aboard the USNS Comfort shortly after the earthquake, accompanied by her maid Nagela Albere and suffering from a femur fracture caused by falling debris. She quickly became the "mame"—grandmother-- of her ward, spreading her own brand of cheer to patients and staff alike. Nurses noted that she developed a liking for ice cream and Mountain Dew.

Last week tragedy struck: Dalencour suffered a massive stroke that left her comatose. By the evening of Friday, February 19, nurses did not expect her to live through the night. Staff began to plan a small gathering to give all those whose lives she inspired a chance to say goodbye.

Before the service, ward nurses carefully changed the bed sheets around their patient. Like a pair of athletic socks, white bandages hugged skin as fragile as Kleenex, from ankle to knee. Even with closed eyes, smile lines defined the upper half of a delicate face framed by a clear oxygen tube. The two chaplains paged through their hymnals. “We should do ‘Abide with Me’,” said chaplain John Franklin.

“The two greatest things that you can do as a health care provider are to deliver a child and to help someone have a comfortable death,” said Project HOPE volunteer Anne Borden, assigned to a patient care ward aboard the Comfort. She tells of how touched she was to see the outpouring of attention that Dalencour received after the stroke.

Borden participated in a Geriatric and Palliative care nurse residency program at Massachusetts General Hospital where she is an RN. “In these situations, it’s not about the rescue, the save-- it’s about something different.” She and the Navy nurses worked together to find an unoccupied ward for Dalencour, and with the chaplain’s office to have the service. “You try to make the nicest environment you can: lower the lights, play soothing music.”

The two voices soon became four, then more. Borden noticed that Dalencour’s breathing pattern changed during the singing. Visitors began to pour in to say goodbye. Nurses, corpsmen, translators. Borden put a hand on Albere’s shoulder as she covered her face with a paper towel. A prayer began.

“Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil.”

The service ended but Albere remained by the bedside, slowly stroking Dalencour’s forehead and saying goodbye.

Story and photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

State-of-the-Art Scanner Helps Diagnose Haitian Toddler

Project HOPE volunteer Stephen Hickey, retired Air Force, a certified CT and MRI technologist working at Massachusetts General Hospital, describes his first few days in Haiti, from arriving at the airport in Port-au-Prince to his experiences working with the CT scanner aboard the Comfort.

Wed., Feb. 17
OMG, the 20 or so mile drive to the water [from the airport] was so unbelievable that there are no words to describe how quiet all of us became as we saw the destruction from the quake…You can’t really grasp what has happened to these poor people until you actually drive down through a city made completely out of nothing but sheets and cardboard boxes…families huddled together with blank expressions on their faces and how they were all staring at our shuttle bus… At night as far as the eye can see are thousands of candles lit from all of the villages because the only power is produced by generators which only the lucky few can take advantage of.

[Aboard the Comfort] I will be doing Cat scan on the most state of art 64 slice-CT scanner which was rumored to be the only functioning scanner in all of Haiti…Our entire Project HOPE group have somewhat become a close knit family in such a small amount of time…Everyone really has the desire the help this country in every way possible…So far I have been introduced to about 17 other Navy diagnostic imaging techs, 2 ultrasound techs and 2 great radiologists… The best thing is that you never hear any of us complain…

Friday, Feb. 19
We are notified that a new admission will be arriving shortly via helicopter…It is a 3- year-old Haitian girl that will be requiring a head CT with contrast…She arrives later presenting stroke-like symptoms, fever, possible sickle cell. The nursing staff and doctors bring her down to us via stretcher with mom also on board… The little girl is so frightened and crying and she’s cute as a button…In order for us to acquire quality images we must give her a little sedation so she does not move her head…the meds work fast and she is soon asleep. My co worker Tai Nguyen injects 40ml of CT contrast (a harmless dye injected into the veins) to help highlight any abnormalities...The CT scan was over in minutes and the images showed the radiologist was definitely consistent with sickle cell crisis.

I have to admit that I am learning so many new things and really being challenged for this brief stay here on the Comfort. What makes this all so special is when you see a smile on a child’s face as they leave your department.

Photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Monday, February 22, 2010

Surgery Saves Haitian Police Officer's Mobility

Thursday morning Project HOPE volunteer Dr. Neelakantan Sunder, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, was involved in a life-changing surgery for Haitian police officer Roosevelt Baptiste. Baptiste was injured during the January 12 earthquake but had no symptoms until this week, when he began to feel some pain in his neck. When a clinic in Port-au-Prince took X-rays, they found a massive dislocation between his C5 and C6 vertebrae.

"The spine had moved so much that any further movement could have left him paralyzed in all four extremities," related Dr. Sunder. Baptiste was immediately put into a hard collar, ordered to bed rest and put onto a helicopter to the Comfort.

Dr. Sunder's job was to anesthetize the patient and to insert a tube into the airway to control his breathing. In the four-hour surgery, with Baptiste facedown, Navy neurosurgeon Dr. Sam Critides shifted the spinal column back into line and inserted screws to keep it in place.

Meanwhile in the pediatric unit, Baptiste's daughter Rose-Naika, 3, played with a brand new Barbie doll-- a gift from a nurse-- while his wife, Reau Roselie, who is five months pregnant, nervously read from her Bible until word came that the surgery was a success.

"Everything went smoothly, like clockwork, today. [Dr. Critides] did a very nice job and the patient is looking great," said Dr. Sunder. He was elated as he discussed the procedure. "It's exciting for a lot of reasons. Every medical practice is so busy that we don't have enough time, so it's not often that we get to know the patient's family and their whole background, status in life and how the procedure affects them. Here, you get to see all aspects of a person, which is kind of nice."

It reminded him of his family-- who have always encouraged his humanitarian work-- wife Marie, daughter Diana, 18, a freshman in college, and son Dennis, 16 a junior in high school. "You think about your own and think how lucky and blessed we are to have healthy families."

This is Dr. Sunder's second volunteer mission with Project HOPE, having spent three weeks in Indonesia after the tsunami.

Photos and story by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Volunteers Meet Chelsea Clinton

This afternoon the USNS Comfort had surprise visitors: UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti Dr. Paul Farmer and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of another UN Special Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton. Project HOPE Operations Officer Leland Byer had the pleasure of running into them in the main floor hallway and toured much of the boat with the delegation.

Chelsea Clinton, left, Special Envoy to Haiti poses with Project Hope volunteers Emily Ferguson, second from right, and Olga Smulders-Meyer, right, in the medical ward aboard the USNS Comfort off of the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Leland describes his experience with Dr. Farmer:

Walking through the Comfort with Dr. Paul Farmer was incredible. I grabbed as many project HOPE volunteers as I could to introduce them. I wish I could have introduced him to more members of our team. He is a living legend of humanitarian aid and "just-so-happens" to be the UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti.

As an infectious disease consultant he was outstanding. He was extremely knowledgeable and asked many well-thought-out pertinent questions while reviewing CT scans aboard the Comfort. It was an honor to witness his interaction with the Comfort's medical team and his obvious and natural concern for the patient was heart warming.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and for all of the volunteers, both NGO and military, here in Haiti. I was impressed that Dr. Farmer was willing to spend so much time talking to me and am very excited about speaking with him again when he returns in the next several days.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Heartfelt "Thank You" from Haitian Patients

Project HOPE volunteer Angela Portillo just returned from a three week rotation onboard the USNS Comfort off the coast of Haiti where she volunteered as a medical surgical nurse.

The hours were long and days blended together, but despite the devastation of the country, the inconceivable loss of life and the countless broken bones and serious lacerations needing immediate attention, Angela told me she was inspired by the spirit of the Haitian people. “The most profound thing to me was how quickly the patients learned to say thank you to us, in English,” Angela says.

“The patients could be in terrible pain while we worked to change their dressings or perform necessary procedures, but when we were done they would always look us straight in the eye, or grab our hands and look right at us and say 'thank you.'”

Visit TV3 Winchester to view a news clip of Angela recounting her experiences in Haiti.

Thanks for reading.

- Melanie

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Group of HOPE Volunteers Get to Work in Haiti

As Project HOPE volunteers begin their orientation to the ship and received their assignments, ship personnel have expressed their appreciation for relief from their duty which lasted 12-20 hours a day in the first weeks of the quake.

At the request of the Haitian president and the minister of health, relief efforts are slowly being moved ashore. For the USNS Comfort, this means that intake activities have nearly stopped and the mission's focus has shifted towards discharging patients. Fifty-three patients were still onboard the ship as of midnight Tuesday night.

Volunteers toured the nearly empty Casualty Receiving ward today, becoming familiar with the equipment and meeting the few intakes. Thirteen-year-old Peniel Pierre was one of these intakes.

Peniel was visiting his aunt in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. His aunt was killed and Peniel was hit in the head with a brick. He is now blind in one eye and suffers severe migraines. Almost a month after the quake, this is his first real medical care.

His father, Kastin Pierre, spoke quietly in Creole with Project HOPE volunteer Marie-Angie Casimir, his face drawn, about the search for his children immediately after the quake and his frustration trying to find medical care for Peniel. Casimir, who is Haitian and lived in the country until she was 13-years-old, listened intently and eventually drew a smile from Kastin.

Photos and story by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Second Rotation of Volunteers Has Arrived

The second rotation has arrived! Nineteen Project HOPE volunteers clambered aboard the USNS Comfort as the sun was setting on Monday from the last of a string of transports over the course of nearly two days.
The volunteers had been met the day before at the Jacksonville, Florida, airport, were hosted by the USO and briefed by Project HOPE Special Projects director Fred Gerber before good night's rest. The group was then split in half, with the first wave deploying Monday and the second to follow on Tuesday.

The Monday deployment was joined by medical volunteers from other organizations-- including the University of Michigan, Operation Smile and Massachusetts General Hospital-- before boarding a C-40 jet at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station for a non-stop flight to Port-au-Prince.

As the plane descended into the city, the devastation came into focus: smoky fires, collapsed buildings, a harbor dotted with military and humanitarian relief ships. A thirty minute bus ride to the port brought it down to ground level: clusters of tents, collapsed walls topped with rolls of barbed wire, more tents.

USNS Comfort Training Officer Chief Trent Ingram eventually welcomed the group on board, "We don't have palm trees. There's no confetti when you first come aboard. But it's the compared to conditions on shore."
Story and photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

New Group of HOPE Volunteers in Haiti

Project HOPE volunteers pose for a group photo before they depart from the Hampton Inn in Jacksonville, Florida, en route to the Naval Air Base which will transport them to USNS Comfort off of the coast of Port au Prince, Haiti, Sunday, February 14, 2010.

The USNS Comfort comes into view off of the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, February 15, 2010, as a team of Project Hope volunteers are transported to the ship.
Photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer Allison Shelley.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Project HOPE Volunteers At Work in Haiti

Every evening Project HOPE volunteer Claude Hillel, from NYSportsMed & Physical Therapy, takes a young Haitian boy out on the deck of the USNS Comfort to watch the sunset. The young boy, who is being treated on the Comfort has been in a coma since he was hit by a car, but Claude hopes that he will wake.

Project HOPE volunteer Kristin Sullivan of the Children's Hospital of Boston which is part of the Massachusetts General Hospital takes care of young patients on the intensive care unit of the USNS Comfort.
HOPE volunteer Renold Audate at CT scanner which he operates on Comfort.

HOPE volunteer Rebeca Silvers, a traveling nurse from five hospitals in California, gets some help from Navy nurses while discharging patient from USNS Comfort.

Kristin Sullivan from the Children's Hospital Boston works on ICU unit of Comfort.

HOPE volunteer Jennifer Garrity from Massachusetts General Hospital works on ICU unit of Comfort.

HOPE volunteer Jeanette Joslin works on ICU unit of Comfort Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

Project HOPE volunteer Betty Fish-Ferguson from Providence Milwaukee Hospital hugs the mother of a little girl she cared for on the USNS Comfort after mother and child were discharged and transferred to a hospital on land.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW
Photos by HOPE volunteer and photojournalist Astrid Riecken

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Haitian Man Gets Lifesaving Care on USNS Comfort

Kesner Salvant, 25, from Port-au Prince, Haiti, smiles at his friend James who is carefully feeding him. "Enough peas," he says, and James puts down the fork and stops feeding him. He takes away the food and begins carefully moving a paper cup filled with water out of which Kesner can drink with the help of a straw.

Both young men were brought to the USNS Comfort two weeks ago, Kesner with a broken neck, James, who survived the earthquake without injury, as his care taker.

"When the earthquake happened I was on my way from work," Kesner recalls. "I worked as a security guard for a construction company. I was on the street trying to catch a bus when I saw a huge crowd of people running towards me. Everyone was screaming. All of a sudden, I saw the light poles moving. I didn't know what was going on. I ran into a building to seek shelter. I didn't know we had an earthquake."

The building Kesner sought shelter in collapsed. He was buried in the rubble for four days before rescuers found him and brought him to the nearest medical facility. But his misfortune didn't end here. "It took twenty-four hours," he says "before I saw a doctor. They took an x-ray but told me there was nothing wrong with me and sent me away."

Kesner was taken to his girl-friend's house where he stayed for the next week. "I was in much pain and it didn't get better," he remembers.

When Kesner finally reunited with his friend James, things finally took a turn to the better. James called his older brother, Gabison Boisrond, who lives with his family in Maine, United States. Gabison and his mother-in-law talked to a physician on the phone about Kesner's injury.

"The doctor said my neck is likely broken and that I need medical attention immediately," Kesner explains.

This prompted James’ brother and his mother-in-law to contact Congresswoman Chellie Pingree from Maine to ask for help to get Kesner on the USNS Comfort where he could receive the proper treatment.

"The office of the Congresswoman contacted a local Haitian politician, Charles Henri Becker. He helped to find Kesner at his girl-friend's house and to get me to the ship," James says.

Once on the Comfort, Kesner underwent surgery within a few days. It took two neurosurgeons and six hours to operate on Kesner's two broken neck bones. During the surgery four screws were inserted into the two vertebrae which then were connected with rod. Both, screws and rod are made of titanium.

"It's a miracle he is alive and not paralyzed" says US Navy Commander Dennis Rivet, one of the two neurosurgeons who operated on Kesner. "His C1 and C2 (cervical vertebrae) were broken."

Dr. Rivet explains that Kesner's spinal cord was still untouched and not displaced but that any wrong move could have caused further damage and paralyzed him for the rest of his life or killed him. "He is a very lucky man," Rivet says.

Kesner, who did well in surgery and is recovering quickly, is now prepped for his transfer by Project HOPE volunteer Carma Erickson-Hurt who discharges patients from the USNS Comfort.
When she visited Kesner at his hospital bed earlier today he called her 'immigration'. "Most patients are calling me immigration now because they know I am the one who sends people home or to the United States," she says with a smile. Carma is waiting for the papers for Kesner and James to cross to the United States. Kesner will undergo further treatment in Maine.

When asked whether he wants to go to the United States, Kesner answers, "Yes I do." Then he looks at his friend James who has cared for him for the last two weeks, fed him, washed him, and cheered him up when Kesner felt hopeless. "But we want to come back to Haiti. Haiti needs us. Haiti is our home," he says.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW
Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and photojournalist Astrid Riecken

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day AND Night, HOPE Volunteers Provide Care in Haiti

Their lives seem to be a bit upside down. When the rest of the volunteers of Project HOPE gather for dinner, they have breakfast. They go to work when most others return. They are not seen around much. Sometimes they are nicknamed "vampires."

Eight of the Project HOPE volunteers are working the night shift onboard the USNS Comfort.

At the beginning, a few of them admit, it was quite a challenge to adjust to the work schedule of 6 pm to 6 am, since none of them works the night shift back home, but somehow they all got used to it and there is never a word of complaint.

"Someone had to do it," says Karen Zoeller, one of the HOPE volunteering night nurses. "Why not me?"

Project HOPE volunteer Karen Zoeller of Massachusetts General Hospital takes care of Therese Elysee, a Haitian woman who suffered a stroke during the earthquake. Karen's shift starts at 6pm at night and ends at 6am in the morning.

Nurse Karen Zoeller takes care of patients at the intensive care unit of the USNS Comfort during the night shift.
Seasoned HOPE volunteer nurse Rita Kucmierz, from Women's Health Connections in Lindale, Texas and first-time HOPE volunteer nurse Dave Sileo from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania work the night shift on the USNS Comfort.

Night nurse Christine Edouard, from Winchester Hospital in Winchester, Massachusetts, at work onboard the Comfort floating hospital ship off the coast of Haiti.

Project HOPE volunteer Sandy Larson from Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas, takes care of Haitian earthquake victims in the intensive care unit on the USNS Comfort.

Returning HOPE volunteer nurse Sandy Larson, 66, works the night shift taking care of Haitian earthquake victims in the intensive care unit on the USNS Comfort.

Volunteer Karen Zoeller talks to a patient's son while working the night shift on the floating hospital ship, the USNS Comfort.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and photojournalist Astrid Riecken