Quantcast

Deseret News in Haiti: Utah doctors share tragedy, triumph in Haiti

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 2:47 a.m. MDT

American Fork physician Gary Garner wakes up early Saturday morning at the makeshift  camp at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, made up primarily of Utah humanitarians. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) American Fork physician Gary Garner wakes up early Saturday morning at the makeshift camp at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, made up primarily of Utah humanitarians. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Sitting in a makeshift camp on the infield weeds of the Port-au-Prince airport with jet engines roaring 100 yards away, a group of doctors and emergency workers shared the tragedy and triumph of a week in post-earthquake Haiti.

They amputated limbs and performed skin grafts. They sometimes operated without X-rays, relying on the sense of touch. They cleaned and dressed open wounds. And an emergency room nurse delivered a baby.

"Every day has been a new adventure with new plans that constantly change," said Steve Hansen, a St. George orthopedic surgeon.

On the eve of their scheduled Saturday return, the group slept on mattresses and in a cardboard-and-plastic shelter near pallets of supplies. During the week, others wanted to know what organization they represented. After hearing the question numerous times, they settled on Doctors Without Names.

Early morning in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Early morning in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

But they do have names. In addition to Hansen is Chuck Peterson, of Mesa, Ariz.; and Gary Garner and Craig Nelson, both of American Fork.

"It was the most amazing experience I've ever had," said Garner, a pain medication specialist.

The four doctors and Washington County search and rescue team members worked in Leogane, a town of 65,000 people 40 miles west of the capital city, and one of the hardest hit in last week's temblor. An estimated 15,000 of the city's people died. Ninety percent of the mostly cinder-block houses were pancaked. A 300-year-old cathedral erected with sea coral lay in ruins.

"These people have been living under tarps because they're afraid to go in their homes, if their homes were still standing," said Hansen, who, along with Peterson and Nelson, had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Haiti 20 years ago.

A young Haitian girl cries in pain Saturday while receiving treatment for her injuries sustained in the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) A young Haitian girl cries in pain Saturday while receiving treatment for her injuries sustained in the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Some lay in the streets with bones protruding from skin, sick with infection. Children lay scalded by hot cooking oil or boiling water that spilled over when the earth rumbled.

The surgeons set up shop in an open-air school, using bleachers as an operating table and an old desk as a stool. They lacked some surgical instruments but made the best of what they had with the help of German, Cuban, Canadian and Mennonite medical teams on the scene. They had to do some horrible things.

Hansen amputated a 58-year-old woman's leg below the knee with a sterilized Leatherman.

"I used the saw to cut the bone," he said.

Hansen grasps for words as he tries to explain his emotions, especially thinking about the children he operated on who are the same as age as his four 6- to 16-year-old sons.

A woman shouts for joy during a Christian revival in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) A woman shouts for joy during a Christian revival in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"I'll just say it was an extremely fulfilling experience to do my best to help these people," he said.

Jan Call knows the feeling of fulfillment. Among the darkness of death and suffering, she had a hand in bringing a little light to the world.

Working triage, she kept her eye on three pregnant women. One had a contraction, and Call helped her with her breathing. She started to walk away but was quickly called back.

"I knelt down and there was a baby," Call said.

The doctors were busy, so she proceeded to clear the baby's mouth. A Mennonite woman handed her some twine to tie off the umbilical cord. Call snipped it with a pair of scissors and handed the newborn to its grandmother.

"They named it, supposedly, after me," Call said. "It was a boy."

Airport workers show their frustration in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Airport workers show their frustration in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Peterson, too, saw the fruits of his labor. As an LDS Church missionary, he was the president of an LDS branch in Leogane in 1989 when the church built a sturdy new meetinghouse. He and church members planted the grass and the trees, mango trees that are now tall and flush with fruit. The branch has grown into a ward.

"I've literally and symbolically watched the church bear fruit," he said, unable to stop smiling.

Peterson watched the ward's bishop, Yves Pierre-Louis, care this week for several hundred Mormons and non-Mormons living outside the building. This despite his wife being in the Dominican Republic with their son, who is recovering from an electrical shock.

"He's kind of like the mayor of a little community of refugees that have come together," Peterson said of Pierre-Louis. "He and his flock are the fruit that has grown."

A group of humanitarians, primarily from Utah, wake up from their makeshift camp at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) A group of humanitarians, primarily from Utah, wake up from their makeshift camp at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

e-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company