Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Third Continent for Fourth-Time HOPE Volunteer

It all started at a kitchen table in Seattle, almost as far from the Katrina disaster as one can get in the United States. Gabrielle Seibel and her husband, Mike, were, like so many Americans, frustrated at the lack of help being provided to the flooding victims. “And then it came to us," Gabrielle says, “We can do something.” The couple rounded up their three children and had a talk how their family could make a contribution. “We concluded that my nursing skills would be most directly beneficial to the Katrina situation,” says Gabrielle, who recently completed her fourth Project HOPE mission in Indonesia.

Gabrielle’s qualifications make her extremely well suited as a HOPE volunteer. She’s a nurse practitioner with two decades of experience, most of it working with children of immigrants, the underserved and minorities. But she also has a masters in public health that has given her the skills to support Project HOPE's commitment to education and infrastructure development. “What I love about Project HOPE is that they don’t just go into an area for a short term assignment and then leave. They are all about sustainable relationships and partnerships that result in better local health care. Everything was gone after Katrina,” says Gabrielle. “We had to pull a medical site together from scratch, while also seeing patients, all of whom where suffering from traumatic stress."

In Indonesia, Gabrielle assessed and treated hundreds of children in a variety of locations and conditions. In Ambon, at a site that was almost shut down because the crowds were on the verge of getting out of control, she saw a two-year-old boy whose arm and hand had been severely burned several days earlier. With no treatment, the child was in pain, the wound was infected, and his hand was contracting. Not content to just treat the pain and infection, Gabrielle took photos of the injury and discussed the case with both a plastic surgeon and a dermatologist. Arrangements were made to bring the child onto the ship, where state-of the-art burn care was provided. “The boy should regain full use of his hand," says Gabrielle. “There’s a lot of satisfaction when we can do something concrete like that.”

Gabrielle also had an opportunity to mentor two HOPE volunteers on this mission, both RNs who are just completing their final requirements to become nurse practitioners. During a MEDCAP, Gabrielle was able to demonstrate for them the many ways in which pediatric assessment differs from adult assessment. “You can hurt the child if you don’t hold the otiscope a certain way,” says Gabrielle. Dawn Horowitz, one of the NP students, took the initiative to write notes on every pediatric patient they saw together that day. Later, Gabrielle and Dawn reviewed the list and talked about standards of care that are feasible “in the field” as opposed to standards of care in optimal conditions.

“I also learn on these missions,” says this HOPE veteran. “In Ghana, they have a beautiful system for baby clinics. They bring in all the prenatal patients on one day, as a group; then all the well-babies and their mothers on another day.” She explains further that each clinic begins with a prayer, then songs, then dancing. Once everyone is relaxed and feeling good, the clinical care commences. On well-baby days, the mothers walk their infants through a series of stations, where they are weighed, measured and otherwise evaluated. “They don’t have the same concept of privacy that we do,” says Gabrielle. “But they also don’t have post-partum depression.” The mothers of her small patients in Seattle are often isolated, and she feels they could benefit by some Ghanian wisdom about scheduling and program design.

Gabrielle has now treated patients on Project HOPE missions in the United States, Liberia and Ghana in Africa and throughout Indonesia. “The medical care we provide can change lives,” says Gabrielle, certainly thinking of her recent burn patient. “But truly, the medical clinics just scratch the surface. The education and infrastructure piece is huge for us to meet the goal of local sustainability.”

Note to my non-medically trained readers, which may be most of you! Inside the world of health care, we love code words like infrastructure and sustainability. For the rest of us, those words boil down to something we can all understand: people, equipment and buildings that provide health care over the long run.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Monday, August 30, 2010

Volunteers Provide Care to Very End

As the first rotation of Project HOPE volunteers were completing their time in Haiti and Colombia, we found out our partners the Navy were not quite finished with us yet.

Marilyn, Michael, and I went ashore today while the rest of the team packed for the journey tomorrow.

The patient flow went as normal. The only outstanding case of the day was 59-year-old Roman Dario Hernandez, who had a chronic ulcer that had grown to engulf his entire right shin.

Working calmly, Michael cleaned and redressed the area. He then prescribed Muprocin antibiotic ointment. When the tube of ointment runs out, Michael instructed Señor Hernandez to coat the ulcer regularly with honey and apply clean bandages. “You use honey because its sugar content is so high that nothing can live in it,” Michael explained.

After dinner we assembled in the Flag Mess for a special dessert with Commodore Negus and other officers. A huge vanilla cake with thick icing and fresh strawberry filling graced the conference room table. Team members Marty and Manish cut and served the cake.

Team members chatted with the officers and the other volunteers with whom we had served. A relaxed air settled over the room. “This is more intimate than the normal dessert. We got to talk to the officers more,” remarked Manish.

Usually departing civilian volunteers are formally recognized as an item of business at the 1930 confirmation brief, in front of dozens of the Navy brass. As the event drew to a close, Commodore Negus spoke of his appreciation for all the Continuing Promise volunteers. “Nothing is easy on a CP mission. The underlying purpose is you go to help folks, and you can’t do that but by giving of yourself... You’ve given your time, muscle, brain, and sweat to help the least among us. And on behalf of the Continuing Promise team, of which you will always be a part, I deeply thank you,” said the Commodore.

He then presented each of us with a Continuing Promise certificate bearing the fourteen flags of the host nations and mission partner nations. This evening was a crowning touch to our time here on the Iwo Jima. We’ve been privileged to have such wonderful shipmates.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Last Day in Colombia Yields Substantial Results

The last day of full-scale medical operations for the Project HOPE team in Colombia is much the same as any other day here. It was a solid stretch of work in the tropical heat to bring HOPE’s skill to those who need it most.

Skin conditions stood out today as the medical issue du jour. Sometimes a pattern can develop at the med sites where a noticeable number of patients arrive in a single day with a minor problem such as foot pain or headaches. There’s no common environmental explanation for these occurrences; they’re simply a matter of chance.

Nurse Practitioner Matya Cooksey saw an infant with inflammation around his forehead and right eye from insect bites. Such afflictions are all too common in a country with such diverse insect life. The pharmacy was out of hydrocortizone creme, so Matya prescribed Benadryl syrup.

Our other Nurse Practitioner onsite Sandy McCormack counseled an elderly patient on how to improve her general quality of life. Sandy advised the lady to avoid caffeine to help lower her blood pressure. She also suggested wearing shoes with arch support to alleviate pains in the patient’s legs.

“Today we saw general aches and pains, and gave second opinions,” Sandy said. “So we can let them (the patients) know that the Colombian doctors are doing their jobs.”

Team doctor Manish Oza’s final patient of the day was a trim woman in her early sixties who had been in a motorcycle accident two days before. The crash had given the patient severe arthritis in both shoulders. When asked to raise her arms above her head, she burst into tears from the pain before she had even lifted her elbows above the level of her shoulders.

Unfortunately, the woman’s injury will require an X-ray, which we do not have at Med Site 1. Manish, frowning deeply at his inability to help, prescribed an analgesic and referred her to the local hospital.

The day finished with an impromptu concert by a Colombian band in the school’s courtyard. The frenetic, trumpet-fueled tunes did not inspire one to dance so much as to watch the musicians, and let the sheer energy of the music burn away the day’s stress.

The team will depart the USS Iwo Jima soon. We have all enjoyed working in Colombia and Haiti. We are proud to have been a part of Project HOPE and Continuing Promise 2010.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Healthy Farm Animals Help Ensure Public Health

The black piglet squirmed out of the milk crate and shot between the legs of its owner. It took off across the cow pastures, heading towards the woods. Two boys pursued it, scaling fences as easily as the pig dove under them.

An hour later, the boys returned with their wriggling quarry. The piglet was one of dozens of animals which Colombian farmers brought for Army veterinarians to treat. Over the course of the day, the vets saw cows, horses, burros, swine, and dogs.

I myself was interested to see the living conditions for rural Colombians. The farm that had been selected for the day was in the hills above Coveñas, about twenty minutes away from the medical site where Project HOPE volunteers worked.

Right away I could tell that the farm was one of the more prosperous in this region. The concrete houses for the family and farmhands were neatly painted and well-kept, with either tile roofs or palm thatching. Richly plumed chickens and guinea fowl pecked among the lawns.

The farm’s cows were a Brahmin-Broma hybrid, small white cows with loose skin and small humps on their backs. Farmhands would wrestle the calfs and hold them by their ears so the vets could vaccinate them. The adult cows were herded into a tight pen to keep them still for the needles.

The Army’s primary goals were to vaccinate and deworm the livestock. They also administered vitamins B and E, and rabies shots for the horses and donkeys.

The veterinary operations are an important part of Continuing Promise’s strategy to improve the health of Latin Americans. Colombian veterinary doctor Luis Mariano spoke of the relationship between domesticated animals and humans. “Public health (in humans) is only one (reflection of national health). We need to achieve equilibrium in the environment.”

Healthier livestock will increase food and fertilizer yields in Colombia’s rural areas. Also Colombian agriculture is becoming more industrialized nationally.

As the HOPE team continues to care for the people of Colombia, it is reassuring to see that the Continuing Promise mission covers far more than the health of one species.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Volunteers Diversify to Meet Needs in Coveñas

Project HOPE team member Marilyn Ringstaff is a Certified Nurse Midwife. Her role as part of the team is to handle all types of medical issues related to pregnancy and women’s well-being. In Coveñas, she continues the Women’s Health duties she had in Haiti, with a few key changes.

One of the biggest challenges in Haiti was that the Women’s Health department, one of six areas of medicine addressed at the med sites, was lacking all the modern equipment to perform full examinations for pregnant women. Doctors had to use the most accurate methods available to them, sometimes leaving the diagnosis in doubt.

Here, the site still lacks state-of-the-art equipment. However, Colombian patients frequently arrive with intact medical records, even ultrasound results.

“It makes a big difference... A lot of appointments are just consults now,” said Marilyn.

Another obstacle in Haiti was the population’s lack of access to basic birth control measures, notably condoms. This dearth of medical protection permits not only many unprepared-for pregnancies, but also the spread of a host of sexually transmitted diseases.

In contrast, Coveñas citizens have much better access to condoms and birth control. IUDs are available at local clinics for women who wish to postpone pregnancy. For those who want no more children, sterilization is a common practice.

“They call it ‘being disconnected.’ Took me a while to figure out what they were talking about,” Marilyn said with a laugh.

Because of these amenities, the Women’s Health station which functioned in Haiti has been incorporated into the more general Medical station for Colombia. Marilyn still sees many mothers, infants, and mothers-to-be, but her recent charges have included patients from strapping men with headaches to elderly ladies looking for advice on osteoporosis.
“Osteoporosis has no symptoms,” Marilyn counseled one patient. “But many people who have osteoporosis also have arthritis, which is probably what you’re feeling.”

The changes in procedure from country to country often present challenges for the Project HOPE team. But they are challenges that we will continue to overcome.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Surgical Patients Thankful

After extensive patient screening, 54 Colombians were chosen to take onboard the the USS Iwo Jima for surgery. Today, in the ship’s ward, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of them.

Leonore del Risco is an elderly resident of Coveñas. Her husband, José Antonio Carta, is scheduled to have a long-existing hernia removed tomorrow. “It’s amazing that everyone is taking care of us (so well). We did not expect everyone to be so friendly and attentive,” said Señora del Risco, speaking through Navy LS2(AW) Liseth Perez.

Señora del Risco lives with José Antonio and their 19-year-old granddaughter. The couple’s five children have long since moved away. To stave off the poverty that afflicts many Colombians, Señora del Risco works as a postal carrier, delivering letters on foot in blistering heat. Even so, she makes below the Colombian minimum wage. Where the expected salary is 500 pesos a week, she receives 350.

Still, she reasons, it’s better than nothing. She also looks to her four sons and daughter for support. Her eldest son, a security guard in Cartagena, is the main breadwinner. “I thank God that at least I have a job, and a meal on the table every day,” Señora del Risco said.

Her thanks seemed deeply heartfelt. Indeed, the unemployment rate for Colombians is 11.8 percent. She was also grateful to live in Coveñas, which she described as a “jewel.” The town has been spared the violence that persists in some regions. The weather is also temperate, meaning less risk of the floods that have taken lives elsewhere in the country.

The USS Iwo Jima continues to perform life-altering procedures for people just like Señor Carta and Señora del Risco. Stories like theirs remind us of the realities of life far away from the prosperity we Americans enjoy.

This evening at the landing zone, the boat crew made the first dry LCU landing. Team members were able to triumphantly step aboard the transport without wetting their feet. This is an historic moment for everyone who waded ashore day after day in Haiti.

Project HOPE volunteer Matya Cooksey reported that the activities at on shore clinic today went as expected. Site officials found a way to improve efficiency by thwarting “swooners.” Some townsfolk pretend faintness or seizures to gain entrance to the site faster. “If you swoon, you can go to the local hospital, or you can get back in line,” said Matya.

These cases show that when care is limited, some will take unusual measures to receive medical care. One more obstacle has been dealt with in our mission to help the people of Colombia.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Volunteers Stay Busy in Colombia

Today was our first day of seeing patients in Coveñas, Colombia. To mark the occasion, Colombian officials hosted opening ceremonies, where several distinguished guests spoke. Meanwhile, the Project HOPE team worked hard to set the bar high for themselves on the first day. The venue for the opening ceremonies was a large stage, blocking nearly the entire street in front of the school that had been selected for the site. Speakers stood twelve feet high to either side of the platform. The backdrop was a huge banner that read “Promesa Continua 2010,” showing a Marine helping a smiling mother and child.

The event commenced with moving renditions of the Colombian and American national anthems. Commodore Negus and Captain Tanner took their seats beside two Colombian colonels, the mayors of the nearby towns, and Ken Yamashita, director of the relief group USAID. The mayor of Coveñas, Arnaldo Julio Ramos, expressed his gratitude for Continuing Promise’s efforts and extended a warm welcome on behalf of his constituents.

Commodore Negus spoke next, presenting a detailed greeting in Spanish, but the body of his speech in English.

“(Our) commitment (is) as strong as the magnificent ship that has brought us to your shores and as powerful as the spirit of the people we have come to serve,” the Commodore said.

Mr. Yamashita brought the ceremony to a close, expounding upon his desire for increased political and economic opportunities for all Colombians.

Afterwards, the international pop singer Fonseca delivered a special concert from the stage.

The music and the cheers of the crowd filtered into the school buildings, providing an invigorating rhythm for the work inside.
“I get to speak with patients! I love it!” said HOPE team member Matya Cooksey. All of the team’s physicians had to rely on Creole translators in Haiti. Now, Matya, Melissa, and Michael converse freely with their patients in Spanish.

Team nurse Susan Eilermann conquered the language barrier in a different way. She used straightforward sign language to communicate to her charges how to properly use an inhaler.

Some patients arrived at the clinic with newborns for well-checks, a basic procedure to confirm that the baby is healthy. Others with problems such as malnutrition and parasites. There will be no shortage of Colombians needing HOPE’s aid.

By the end of the day we had treated at least 500 patients. Not bad for our first day. We’ve glimpsed how smoothly our system can run, and we’ll be pushing ourselves to improve it at every turn. ¡Vaminos!

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Volunteers Prepare for Patients in Colombia

The Colombian coast was a line of green on the horizon, sandwiched between two plates of steel-gray clouds and water. A smattering of islands punctuated the water to our port side. As I gazed toward the lights of Covenas onshore, a huge S of lightning snaked across the morning sky. Drops of rain began to speckle the deck.

These weather conditions waylaid the morning’s helicopter launch, but not for long. The choppers bore the Continuing Promise advance team to scout the conditions for the new Med Site 1 in Covenas. Project HOPE team member Dr. Michael Polifka was part of this team.

Michael reported that the daily procedure would be much the same as it had been for Haiti. There will be buses to take us from the helicopter- and boat landing zones (HLZ and BLZ, respectively) to the site each morning. The site itself is a walled school compound like the Lycée in Porte de Paix.

The Continuing Promise mission will be far more publicized to the local population than it was in Haiti. The school walls are already adorned with a banner reading “Promesa Continua 2010.”

Michael and others on the advance team spent the day organizing the site, allocating classrooms for the pharmacy, optometry clinic, etc. They made such progress that surgeons were able to begin screening patients to board the Iwo Jima. Michael even examined one patient himself, a 19-year-old man who underwent a chest x-ray and was diagnosed with a hernia.

At the nightly confirmation brief, military officials warned us not to be complacent based on what we’d seen in Haiti. Colombia will offer a widely different set of conditions.

“There are mosquitoes, bats, rabid dogs, and poisonous snakes,” said Captain Tanner. “Can’t forget about the snakes.”

After the team meeting, Michael and Dr. Manish Oza discussed tomorrow, when more HOPE volunteers will go to Med Site 1.

“It will be what it will be,” said Michael.

Manish nodded resolutely. “We’ll find out tomorrow.”

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Volunteers Step Into Mess Crew's Shoes

Today Project HOPE team members, as well as other civilian volunteers and officers of the Iwo Jima, had the opportunity to trade places with some of the ship’s kitchen staff. They came away with a new appreciation for how much effort goes into everyday food preparation.

The event began with a sign-up sheet posted on the Wardroom door proclaiming an “FSA CS Night Off.” NGO (non-governmental organization) volunteers, officers, and others could sign up to undertake various kitchen duties such as serving and washing dishes.

The turnout was considerable. Team members Matya Cooksey and Susan Eilermann washed dishes for several hours after lunch to prepare for dinner, when more people were scheduled to take part.

“I did the scrubbing and I learned how to load the dishwasher-- which is called ‘the Dragon’ --and Matya dried the dishes and arranged the silverware in the appropriate spots... And we rocked,” Susan said.

The dinner itself was definitely one of the best meals we’ve had on the Iwo Jima so far. Dr. Diane Seemann from Germany cooked thick-crusted pizza with robust cheddar cheese. There was also succulent pasta in alfredo sauce with chicken. Finally there was ice cream for dessert, complete with candy toppings.

“It’s like an honor to be able to serve our men and women (in uniform),” said Janinatt Viteri of the NGO Give a Kid a Backpack.

HOPE team member Dr. Manish Oza agreed. “It’s good for everyone. It gives you a greater appreciation for the effort that goes into making the food and the cleanup. You’re not really aware of all that until you do it yourself.”

In the end, the day proved to be an excellent chance to better identify with our partners in the Navy. With this mutual appreciation, we’ll continue to make this a better Continuing Promise for everyone.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

HOPE Volunteers Take a Break at Guantanamo

We came into sight of Cuba around sunrise. As green peaks rose over the horizon, people crowded the deck to catch the first glimpses of the infamous Guantanamo Bay military base.
As tempting as it was to bring out our cameras, we resisted. Pictures of the base are strictly verboten, even from offshore.

The first building that came into sight reminded me from a distance, ironically, perhaps, of a mosque. As we pulled further into the strait guarding the bay, I saw that it was a domed airport hangar. A large blue twin-engine plane flew directly over the Iwo Jima as we passed.

As we docked, I found it strange to see the ship surrounded by land in almost all directions. We’d been surrounded by the open expanse of the sea for so long. On the dock below, forklifts scurried in and out of the ship’s hold, restocking it with food and other supplies.

Guantanamo’s climate logically reminds me of south Florida, but the rocky terrain is completely different. Large many-fingered cactus trees grow on the crests of hills.

The fauna is also jarringly dissimilar. Two-foot-long iguanas lumber through the lawns on the base, as omnipresent as squirrels in a city park.

The team spent the day stocking up on the clothing items we discussed for Colombia. After dark we sampled the base’s Jamaican restaurant, the Jerk House. The food was excellent, very similar to good Suthun’ barbecue, but with more spices.

Today is also the last day for our Creole translators, Jenny, Dinah, and Vanessa. Their skills were invaluable in Haiti, and we wish them well in their future work with the Red Cross in Miami.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Colombia Bound

The Continuing Promise Project HOPE team is barely out of sight of Haiti, and we’re already gearing up for the next stage of action. We’re striving to, as team member Sandy said yesterday, “work out all the kinks,” so we can perform HOPE’s work with maximum speed and effectiveness.

After the evening muster, team member Dr. Manish Oza gathered the team around the conference table in the Flag Mess to discuss how we might learn from some of the inconveniences we experienced in Haiti.

The knowledge that we’ll be facing a different climate in Colombia spurred our decisions. Haiti’s northern peninsula is dry in comparison to much of the Caribbean. Seeing that summer is Colombia’s rainy season, we expect things to get a lot wetter.

Team member Dr. Michael Polifka, who has undertaken numerous medical missions in Latin America, advised that everyone buy a rain jacket at Guantanamo. He also cautioned that we should be prepared to deal with copious mud.

“The big problem might not be rain, but the stuff the rain makes,” he said.
We’ll also purchase water shoes, lest we have to wade ashore again. Far from being an issue of comfort, dry feet will become essential in Colombia’s jungle humidity in order to thwart trench foot and similar conditions.

The team also agreed that we should become more proactive in dealing with the military’s pre-set structure for the med sites. Manish suggested taking advantage of team members’ knowledge of specific medical topics to give more detailed education presentations.
“We could cover asthma, wound-dressings, any number of stuff...” Manish said.

Earlier today three of the team got the chance to view Haiti as never before. Dr. Melissa Moore, Matya Cooksey, and Susan Eilermann were selected to go along with a helicopter crew that was photographing certain sites for publicity purposes. They saw everything from country villages to a beachside resort complete with a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

One sight of the day made a particularly strong impression. Though many buildings in one rural settlement were primitive, it boasted one unexpected advancement in hygiene.
“I was super-impressed with these latrines up in the hills,” Matya said.

These latrines were solidly built and equipped with ventilation shafts, which help the waste break down faster. If toilets of this quality can be found in Haiti’s back country, it stands to sense that the country’s overall health can advance, even if only one town at a time.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Than 4000 Patient Encounters in Haiti

August 2 was the last day of appointments at Med Site 1 in Haiti. The high rate of patient flow which yielded over 800 encounters yesterday increased even further.

“Well, it went so smoothly because we’ve gotten all the kinks out (over the previous days),” said Project HOPE team member Sandy McCormack.

Unfortunately, the Iwo Jima was tentatively scheduled to depart for Guantanamo Bay tonight, so Med Site 1 only performed services for half a day. Even so, they saw over 500 patients.

Tonight at the 1900 briefing on the next day’s activities, Captain Tanner reported that, during our eight-day-long stay in Haiti, we encountered 4054 patients.

Commodore Negus also offered his words of praise for civilians’ role in the exercise. It’s your hard work, persistence, character, and individual drive that touches folks... This is an absolutely magnificent, magnificent start to a magnificent deployment.”

All of the HOPE team is looking to duplicate the triumphs we’ve had in Haiti in Colombia. A day of R&R awaits us at Gitmo. But it won’t be long before we have our boots on the ground again.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

Friday, August 13, 2010

Volunteers Witness Moving Ceremony

The first formal military ceremony I’ve ever seen is also likely to be one of the most moving that I ever will see.

Today’s change of command officially concluded Captain Jeffrey “Amtrack” Amick’s leadership of the USS Iwo Jima, and the inauguration of Captain Tom Chassee. Traditionally, the ceremony is a very formal event with the potential to be very elaborate. However, our limited resources aboard the ship demanded something more spartan. In fact, the brief gathering on the flight deck made the ritual’s core meaning even more powerful.

The ceremony opened with a lively rendition of “Anchors Away” by the Air Force. Then the Navy and Marine Corps color guard paraded their respective flags, along with Old Glory, in a perfectly drilled march. Finally, a trio of female sailors delivered a stunning rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Captain Amick mounted the stage, radiating his well-known air of geniality. After thanking his parents and his wife for their support, he launched into his farewell speech, already visibly moved by the occasion.

He began by describing a crew’s devotion to their ship, and the captain’s duty to the crew. He heartily congratulated the Iwo Jima’s crew for their achievements over the past few years.

“Wherever we go, they know (the task at hand is) gonna be done quickly, and it’s gonna be done right the first time,” said Amick.

That martial ability has now been harnessed in Continuing Promise, of which the captain also spoke highly.

“Thousands of lives will be touched and improved by what we are doing here (in Haiti),” he said.

Commodore Negus presented Captain Amick with the pennant which had flown from the mast during the length of his command, framed in a majestic wooden display case.

“I’d stay here for another thirty years if they’d let me... but no, they won’t let me,” Amick said in closing with a smile.

He then turned to Captain Chassee, exchanged salutes imbued with the deep gravity of the moment, and took his seat.

The new ship’s master Chassee kept his speech short, in keeping with the traditions of the event.
“All I can ask is that you offer me the same second-to-none support you showed Captain Amick,” Chassee said.

And so, the Iwo Jima will carry on with a new captain. This ceremony provided Project HOPE team members with a moving glimpse into the world of our partners in the armed services.

In other news, Dr. Howe, President and CEO of Project HOPE, visited the onshore medical sites and the ship. Check out his blog. We’ll also said goodbye to two of our number, Stephen and Sam Casscells, as they will be departing with Dr. Howe for Port-au-Prince and the flight back to the States. We wish them all the best.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

Thursday, August 12, 2010

HOPE CEO Visits Volunteers in Haiti

While at a medical site in Haiti, we received a special guest: Dr. John Howe, the president and CEO of Project HOPE. We also treated the highest number of patients so far in one day.

Dr. Howe arrived in Porte de Paix as part of a tour of Haiti. Check out his personal blog. Arriving in Port-au-Prince, he toured the well-known Hôpital Albert Schweitzer before flying to Cap Haitien and then to Porte de Paix.

HOPE team member Dr. Manish Oza served as the tour guide throughout the Lycée Tertulien Gibauld, giving Dr. Howe a first-hand look at our medical, deworming and education stations.

Dr. Howe greeted all the team members at the site, warmly thanking them for bringing their expertise to Haiti. At the medical station, Dr. Howe lauded team nurse practitioner Sandy McCormack for her service.

“You’ve really gone above and beyond the call of duty,” he said.

“Well, it’s really my family who are going above and beyond (for letting me part with them for so long),” Sandy demurred.

Dr. Howe also met with Mayor Gaston Estima, who heartily thanked him for HOPE’s actions in Haiti, and in Porte de Paix in particular.

Soon after, Dr. Howe took a helicopter from the landing zone to the USS Iwo Jima, where he met with the ship’s top brass, including Commodore Negus and Captain Chassee.

Meanwhile, those at Med Site 1 were busy breaking a record.

We helped 633 (patients) yesterday,” Chief Chubb had announced at the morning muster. “My goal is 650 (today).”

Some personnel upped the ante, shouting that we could serve 700.

So imagine our surprise when we shattered both goals. At the end of the day, we saw 802 patients. Of those, we had dewormed 610 and filled 1424 prescriptions.

Not a bad day.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Treating Hookworms in Haiti

The crowd was enormous. They numbered over three thousand, maybe as many as five, all competing for a place in the street flanking the school where we were setting up Med Site 1. Today was going to be intense.

Vanessa and Lt. Washington brought the last round of Haitian surgery patients from Med Site 1 to the ship yesterday. Now the functions of the two sites switch, with Med Site 2 in St. Louis du Nord screening for surgeries, and Med Site 1 in Porte de Paix hosting the wider medical operations.

We pulled up in the buses to the Lycée Tertulien Gibauld, a high school boasting architecture that looked like a cross between a medieval fortress and a modern artist’s apartment. The spiral staircase inside the atrium made of poured concrete reminded me of a middle-schooler’s paper-maché creation. An encircling concrete wall formed a solid barrier to the masses outside should they turn hostile.

Unfortunately, the school’s gate was too narrow to occupy our truck. It took all of our number to form a human chain to unload it.

The mayor of Porte de Paix Gaston Estima showed up to check on the proceedings and meet with Commander Rad. He conveyed his warm wishes and thanked us for our service to the town.
As soon as we let in the patients, the whole became very chaotic, just like it had at Med Site 2. Patients and translators rushed back and forth, all against the backdrop of the crowd’s constant murmur outside the wall.

Inside the medical room, Project HOPE doctors were hard at work. Team member Sandi McCormack assisted an aging man with an old rotator cuff injury, counseling him on arthritis and how to soothe muscle pain.

Unlike at Med Site 2, however, a new station had been created to help the townsfolk with hookworms. Hookworms are a gastrointestinal parasite that can prevent the intestines from properly absorbing nutrients. They are a significant scourge in Haiti for many who are already undernourished.

Team members Susan Eilermann and Sam Casscells helped man the table, with Steven Casscells translating from directions into French. They dispensed deworming pills to patients ten years old and up, and a liquid medicine to younger children. Some of the kids balked at a stranger giving them a cupful of yellow goo, but most accepted it dutifully.

In all, we assisted 477 patients today. The hookworm medicine will do wonders for the health of Porte de Paix’s citizens. But we’ve only seen a small fraction of those who came to wait outside the Lycée. There is still much to be done.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Volunteers continue to work in port and on shore in Haiti

Today I had the fortune of witnessing fourteen Haitian patients make the transition from shore to the comforts of the Iwo Jima.

I met Vanessa Bernard and Lt. Washington of the Navy on her way back to the UN compound leading fourteen patients from Med Site 1. The number of people meant we’d have to divide up into two helicopters to deliver them to the ship. The lieutenant didn’t speak Creole or French, so I volunteered to accompany her as the translator for the second group.

Vanessa departed on the first helicopter with ten of the patients. About an hour later the helicopter came into sight. We shielded our ears and eyes as it landed in a vortex of wind. We were issued earplugs and goggles and hurried up the aircraft’s ramp to find our seats.

We were in the air before I’d even had time to show the Haitians how to buckle the seat belts. As we flew over the sea I’d expected them to be amazed, but instead they looked nonplussed, as if the ride were a trying experience they’d rather just get done. After a short five minutes of flight and one long, banking turn, we touched down on the flight deck.

After dinner, I went back to the medical ward to check in with the patients I’d seen yesterday. Lubens is doing well, with a blood-soaked but tidy bandage on his temple. Methinks the resulting scar will help him impress the ladies when he gets back.

After playing two rounds of dominoes with six of the guys, I showed my laptop to Bryssainthe Berline, 19, and her 14-year-old sister, who declined to give her name. In a conversation at the landing zone this morning Bryssainthe had ask to hear some of my music, and so the pair flipped through my music library. They especially liked the more upbeat tunes from Gaelic Storm, Little Joy, and Metric.

Project HOPE team doctors Manish Oza and Michael Polifka related how their work continued at Med Site 2 with a high volume of patients. Fortunately, all of the cases were basic, easily ailments such as infections and body pains.

“God was smiling on us,” Manish said beatifically as he showed me a picture on his phone. “He sent us a rainbow after we were done.”

And it hadn’t even rained.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

Monday, August 9, 2010

Project HOPE's Dr. Nasar Sheldon Visits Pacific Partnership Volunteers in Indonesia

Project HOPE has a history of medical missions within Indonesia spanning 50 years, but it was the relationships forged during the 2004 Tsunami response that lay the groundwork for Project HOPE’s continuing presence in Indonesia.

During Project HOPE and the USNS Mercy’s recent stop in Ambon, the Director of HOPE’s Indonesia Operations, Dr. Nasar Sheldon, visited the ship and went on MEDCAPS with HOPE volunteers. During his time on board he shared news with us of the exciting work being done in his country, day in and day out. It’s a common feeling for volunteers to leave MEDCAPs frustrated by their inability to follow up with their patients, so it was heartening for the team to hear about Project HOPE’s contributions to sustainable health care systems in Indonesia. Many people still associate Project HOPE primarily with “the big white ship,” but, in fact, the majority of work done by Project HOPE worldwide is conducted in land-based efforts.

In Indonesia, Dr. Sheldon directs a staff of 32, most of whom are Indonesians working in areas in which they have a network of relationships. Most of their work has been in Nagan Raya, the province just south of Banda Aceh, and the area hardest hit by the tsunami. In 2005, Project HOPE and local health officials agreed on two goals: Establish basic and referral services, and restore and improve health care services for mothers and children in the Nagan Raya Province. The challenge was enormous. Even before the tsunami, the area’s health care resources had been ravaged by thirty years of conflict and war.

Nasar shared some results from Project HOPE's work in Indonesia:

•1,3oo community health volunteers have been trained

•229 village midwives have been trained

•200 health care providers have been trained in the World Health Organization's Integrated Management of Children’s Health Illnesses protocols.

•400 Elementary school teachers in 127 schools are implementing a health education program geared to 5th graders, designed to make children and families more aware of health care resources in their communities.

I hasn’t been easy, but five years later, the successes in NR are many. Millions of dollars have supported facility and equipment development, resulting in the establishment or upgrading of 247 Posyandrus (health clinics.) They’ve served 122,000 people, including 25,000 women of childbearing age, and 17,000 children aged five years or less.

Dr. Sheldon is a native of Indonesia, and has experienced the country’s decade-long emergence from totalitarian rule to democracy. The ability to communicate openly and directly has been essential to the forging of strong relationships between Project HOPE staff and district health officials.

Our medical mission is winding down, and the opportunity to meet this key player in Project HOPE’s worldwide reach has been fascinating for those of us who care so much about Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Engine Room

I didn’t really want to go on the tour of the USNS Mercy engine room, but my fellow Project HOPE volunteers kept raving about how awesome it was so I finally caved to the peer pressure. After all, life on the ship has been a huge part of our experience here in Indonesia. And ship-based medical missions are an integral part of Project HOPE’s history, going back to the SS HOPE’s maiden voyage in 1960. To Indonesia, exactly 50 years ago!

As a group of us walked to the far aft end of the ship to start the tour, we admitted all we know about ship engine rooms comes from disaster movies. Titantic came up first, of course, with its scenes of sweaty seaman desperately trying to crank down hatches to forestall invading ocean water. Some of us also remember The Poseidon Adventure, in which the ship actually turned over, and Shelley Winters swam through flooded engine rooms while Karen Carpenter crooned in the background.

Our tour started off calmly enough with affable Chief Engineer Joe Watts giving an overview of the ship while pointing to various places on a large framed schematic. With an accent hinting of his home in Boston, he told us the Mercy runs 894 feet from stem to stern, 105 feet across at its widest point, and 116 feet high. We’re just a speck traveling through the vast expanses of the Banda Sea, but if the ship were to be dry docked, it would take three high school football fields to contain it.

Once we nodded our agreement that this is a really big boat, Joe gave us a mini- history lesson. In 1958, Project HOPE founder Dr. William Walsh persuaded President Eisenhower to donate a U.S. Navy hospital ship, and the concept of ship-based volunteer-staffed medical missions was born.

We are not in that same ship, today, of course. The SS HOPE was retired in 1974. In the early 1980’s bids to build two floating hospitals from scratch went out. The National Steel Company in San Diego came back with a crazy idea to retrofit existing oil tankers into hospitals. It would save millions, they argued, and they were awarded the contract. The hospital berthing units and wards were built “prefab,” then lowered by sections into the discrete vertical “slices” of the ship’s hulls.

Joe could write a book about the mechanics of the ship’s engines, and with a few months at sea, I could probably write a chapter. But this is a blog, so I’ll just share a few highlights: the ship’s propeller is 26 feet wide, and has five blades instead of four, for smoother sailing should surgery be required while underway. Also, the OR is placed dead center of the ship, where the least motion can be felt. (Nonetheless, I’m happy all the surgical patients have been discharged. Today, as we are underway to Australia, the waves are 7-9 feet high, and we are all weaving like drunken sailors.

Finally we pushed orange foam plugs into our ears and encountered the deafening noise in the actual engine rooms. We trudged through rooms as toasty as 118˚, and then computer and repair rooms as sweetly cold as meat lockers. The main room is vast and tall enough to make one dizzy looking up, but other spaces are so tight we had to make ourselves skinny to avoid touching grimy, hot machines. Joe shouted out information along the way, and we all nodded along as if we heard and understood every word.

I did catch this: Enormous boilers that bring to mind Dante’s Inferno produce our water for drinking and washing by heating salt water to 170 degrees. Then they apply some engineering mojo involving vacuum pressure. The sucked out salt sludge is returned to the sea, and more seawater is taken in. No water shortage here, salty or not.

Our tour wound down when Joe opened a hatch and ushered us onto a small balcony featuring fresh air and blinding sunshine. He showed us the gun that shoots a line over to an oil tanker, which ultimately results in a cable that connects the two ships. A hose as big a boson’s arm and then pumps 10,000 barrels of oil from the supply ship to the Mercy, as the two ships remain sailing at the exact same speed for three hours.

The next morning we actually witnessed this process, one of hundreds of wonders, big and small, we’ve experienced these last five weeks.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer