A year after Haiti quake, Latter-day Saints remember the heartache, continue to help

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 12 2011 9:30 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Jeff Randle is flying from Utah to Haiti Wednesday, the latest of his many returns to the Caribbean island nation he loves.

Arriving first as a young Mormon missionary, his experiences led to a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation. The Salt Lake City doctor founded Healing Hands for Haiti International a dozen years ago, and the Port-au-Prince clinical campus provided treatment, training and prosthetic equipment.

His flight comes on the one-year anniversary of Haiti's devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which rocked the already reeling Third World country by killing an estimated 230,000 Haitians, injuring some 300,000 and leaving another 1.5 million homeless.

The Healing Hands compound sustained extensive damage, and Randle arrived in Haiti soon after the quake a year ago to survey the magnitude of the problems at the compound and in the nation he loves.

The pledges of billions of dollars in international aid, relief and reconstruction in Haiti have resulted in a mixed bag of successes and unfulfilled promises, as the country still sits among mountains of concrete rubble and saddled with a government that even before the quake was challenged but has since worsen because of loss of workforce, facilities, records and function.

Healing Hands for Haiti, however, has benefited from what Randle says is its best year in donations and support. Damaged buildings on compound property have been cleared, and Healing Hands will soon break ground on a new $3 million rehab complex.

"It was only a dream in the past," he said, adding that the earthquake's aftermath "got Haiti in the eye of the world community."

Still, Randle realizes that his organization's successes in 2010 are among the exceptions, rather than the rule.

"My heart is still heavy for Haiti because I don't think it has changed much since."

Doctors' hands

Many Utahns rushed to Haiti post-quake and post-haste to help. Some were expatriate Haitians anxious to aid family and loved ones. Others arrived as specialists in recovery, security, demolition and reconstruction. Still more coupled other resources with a resolve to wade into Haiti's chaotic mess of death, destruction and disorder.

Those forced to focus most closely on ailing Haitians were the medical volunteers like Randle — doctors, nurses and health-care specialists. Some had been to Haiti before with prior humanitarian efforts; others were making their first — and likely only — island visit.

The LDS Church sent in 16 individuals as part of its first-ever initial-response medical team. Some team members were familiar with the country or spoke Haitian Creole or French, the country's official language. Others simply contributed their medical specialty — trauma, emergency room, orthopedic surgery, family practice.

Others from Utah — in small groups or individually — found their own way to Haiti, joining in quickly formed partnerships with other organizations or outfits in creating makeshift clinics and field hospitals.

Once in Haiti, they did whatever was necessary, from providing pills and applying simple bandages to amputating dead limbs and cleaning out week-old wounds infected by lice.

They also doubled as improvised ambulance services, helping forward the most seriously injured to a handful of operating hospitals or the USNS Comfort hospital ship.

One of the biggest challenges facing the volunteers was the sheer numbers of victims needing medical attention. Treating individuals one by one when the total number of injured was in the hundreds of thousands, several doctors turned to trade terminology.

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