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."
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.
"It was like handing out Band-aids — there was so much death, trauma and amputation," said American Fork doctor Gary Garner, whose volunteer group in Haiti included a handful of former LDS missionaries who had served in Haiti.
But his group soon recognized that their efforts — while limited to their medical experience and available equipment — were not only critical for that victim at that time but also no worse than any other medical care the individual might receive elsewhere.
"We realized that this was as good as it was going to get for them — even though it was M*A*S*H-like surgery," Garner said.
Said Randle: "If we can give hope to even just one person, that's what we'll do. … It's the only way you can deal with Haiti, because it becomes rapidly overwhelming."
How are they?
Still shadowing the medical volunteers is the uncertainty of the Haitians they treated.
"Some of those cases you still think about today," said Marc Johnson, a South Ogden family practice doctor. "Where are they now, how are they and how did they end up?"
Jeremy Booth, an Eden emergency-room doctor, often wonders about the woman brought to him, a door from her collapsed house doubling as her stretcher. Booth last saw the woman — her two fractured legs in casts — on the front porch of her uninhabitable home, still perched on the same door.
Mark Rampton, a Corvallis, Ore., doctor with the LDS group, is one of the few who has maintained contact with a Haiti quake patient.
Trying to avoid the missile-like masses of concrete falling off buildings during the earthquake, 12-year-old Phedeline Mon Fleury dove under an idling car for cover — the muffler and exhaust pipes seared her scalp, face, arm and other parts of her body with excruciating third-degree burns.
Rampton helped treat her in Port-au-Prince and arranged her transfer to a burn center in Miami. She now lives with relatives in New Jersey and keeps in contact with the Ramptons, who still display an 8-by-10 portrait of a heavily bandaged Phedeline in their family room.
"It keeps it all in perspective for us," he said.
Another patient remembered by many of the LDS-sponsored staff is Oresto Oclor, a 4-year-old boy buried in rubble for days, with his dead brother pinning his crushed arm. Oresto's father — his only surviving family member — pushed him in a wheelbarrow for miles, happening to pass LDS medical personnel as they were closing their clinic for the day.
They rushed to treat Oresto's wounds, knowing the injured arm likely needed amputation and worrying the infection throughout his body may cost him his life. With Oresto in their arms and a prayer in their hearts, they rushed him to a team of Swiss pediatric/orthopedic specialists.
Booth, one of the last of the LDS contingent to depart Haiti, later visited Oresto. He found the boy's arm needed to be taken no more than just below the elbow and that he was free from any fever.
Besides talking to friends, family and colleagues, many of the medical volunteers in the months since have spoken to medical, civic and church groups about their Haiti experiences. One said it helps him feel as through he hasn't abandoned the Haitians.
Preaching Haiti has had its benefits.
"Dozens of my friends have decided they are now going to extend themselves and render service to the extent of their particular skills and interests," said since-retired Provo orthopedic surgeon Creig MacArthur.
For MacArthur, his Haiti efforts helped heal on the homefront as well.
"A wayward daughter met me on our return to Utah and with tears in her eyes told me that if I could go and do what I had done, then she had to put her life back in order," he said, adding she has made good on her promise.
Some of the medical volunteers have returned to Haiti as part of other organized efforts.
Garner and his group did so in March, coordinating online with Haitian medical personnel. With advance knowledge of specific medical and equipment needs, the group targeted supply and equipment donations, set up precise clinic sites, provided training seminars and scheduled visits with needful patients — including some they themselves had treated in the days after the quake.
"As a physician," Garner said, "I like to see what happens with my patients."
Johnson, Orem nurse (and Haitian native) Marc-Aurel Martial and Mount Pleasant doctor Allen Day — part of the LDS-sponsored 16 — have formed their own Haiti Health Initiative and will return this March to the mountain village of Timo, helping with medical and dental care and hoping to build a permanent on-site clinic and add future agricultural and water projects.
While his current trip to Haiti is more administrative in nature with Healing Hands, Randle is returning again in two months, planning to spend considerable time in the clinic and out in the community assessing needs.
And maybe, just maybe, he'll run across a familiar face or a previous post-quake patient — perhaps a little boy in need of a prosthetic arm.
"I'm headed back to the clinic in March," Randle said, "and I'm planning on trying to find Oresto."
Haiti since the earthquake:
The Haitian economy contracted by 7 percent.
More than 1 million displaced people, including 380,000 children, are still in some 1,200 tent-and-shack encampments.
The U.N. estimates that 650,000 people will still be living in camps at the end of 2011.
More than 3,500 dead from cholera and more than 155,000 sickened since an outbreak began in October.
Americans have donated more than $1.4-billion to help the impoverished country rebuild.Comment on this story
The government of Haiti has received $824 million of $4.6 billion pledged though end of 2011 for reconstruction at an international donors conference in New York.
The earthquake created an estimated 20 million cubic meters of rubble, enough to fill dump trucks parked bumper to bumper to reach more than halfway around the globe,
Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared.
Only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built.
Sources: World Bank; Unicef; U.N.; Haitian Ministry of Health; The Chronicle of Philanthropy; UN. Office of the Special Envoy; Oxfam