U.Va. Medical Center Personnel Assist in Haiti Relief Efforts

March 3, 2010 — When the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, University of Virginia nursing professor Audrey Snyder was in St. Kitts and Nevis teaching a January term class on disaster preparedness.

Less than a month later, Snyder was on the ground in Haiti, aiding earthquake victims.

Through Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod World Relief, Snyder and U.Va. emergency medicine physician Scott Syverud traveled to Jacmel, a city in southern Haiti, to assist at a church clinic and hospital from Feb. 6 through 14. The church clinic received 120 patients per day.

"Despite their dire situation, the people of Haiti are extremely kind and appreciative," Snyder and Syverud wrote in a blog post about their first day seeing patients in Jacmel.

Snyder and Syverud spoke about their experience Monday to an audience of hospital employees, medical and nursing students and other community members.

While in Jacmel, Snyder and Syverud saw patients who had three-week-old untreated wounds and who had been continually exposed to the elements after their homes collapsed. Infections, severe dehydration and scabies – an infectious skin disease caused by tiny mites – were common.

In a country with a high infant mortality rate, Snyder and Syverud also treated many children.

"More than half of the patients were kids," Syverud said. One of his first patients was an unresponsive six-month-old baby with a 105-degree fever, whom they were able to successfully treat.

Snyder and Syverud also visited a 3,500-person refugee camp, where they examined pregnant women living at the camp and provided health education.

Emergency physician Sara Sutherland, trauma nurse coordinator Kathy Butler and emergency department nurse John French also assisted in Haiti during February. Through Operation Smile, the team helped at a 250-patient tent hospital in Fond Parisien, a city near the Dominican Republic border.

The Fond Parisien center is the largest rehab hospital in Haiti. Many patients underwent orthopedic surgery and received daily wound care. Amputees also received care as they waited for prosthetics.

Though the doctors and nurses faced difficulties due to the heat and the lack of equipment, they were invigorated by the energy of the Haitians. Even with little to no pain medication after intense surgeries, Sutherland said patients continued to smile.

Young bilingual Haitians served as interpreters for the doctors and nurses, allowing hundreds of patients to be seen each day. "They are the real future of Haiti," Sutherland said.

"The lasting impression for me was how amazing the people were," Syverud said.

Snyder would eventually like to take U.Va. nursing students to Haiti, noting that many have expressed interest. But for now, students are unable to assist because of the current U.S. State Department travel warning for Haiti.

Groups from around the United States are lined up to volunteer in Haiti through the end of March. Later in the year, Snyder hopes to lead a return trip with another group of University medical professionals. Future goals include holding quarterly medical clinics and community education programs.

In addition to physically aiding Haiti, the University community has supported Haiti’s earthquake recovery efforts financially. Various student organizations have held fundraisers and donated money toward relief efforts. The student-initiated campaign "Hoos for Haiti" has raised nearly $94,000 so far.

— By Laura Hoffman