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Winter Medical Mission (Part 1)


St. Gabriel's School with patients arriving for clinic.

For the past several years, students, physicians, staff  and friends from the University at Buffalo Medical School have traveled to St. Gabriel's School in Fontaine, Haiti to provide medical services and education to the school's students and members of the community.  On more recent trips they have begun to help train health care aides who can provide some level of care between the medical school's trip. This email contains the first of two reports from this winter's "Mission to Haiti" during which they saw approximately 1,000 people.  Please note at the end of Report Two the summary reflection provided by Vinny Polsinelli. 


Hello family and friends,

Bonswa from Haiti! We have safely arrived in Fontaine and are starting to set up our clinic for tomorrow. It was an eventful day, per usual in Haiti. Our adventure started in Cap Haitien on arrival. The airport had a single runway and a small one-room building for immigration, customs and security. The customs agents went through all our suitcases which were filled with medications and supplies. One of the agents seemed quite interested in some of our non-prescription supplies. Dr. Holmes told her she could have a few of them if she wanted and she was very happy about this and helped herself. Dr. Holmes hoped that the good will would help with the bartering for the "import fee" (aka bribe). Unfortunately, customs still wanted us to pay $200. Dr. Holmes and Pierre-Louis negotiated it down to $80 and we were finally able to pass with all our luggage.

We loaded up three vans and one truck with all of our luggage and started the trek through the beautiful Haitian mountains to Fontaine. Dr. O'Gorman traveled with one of our translators, Moussanto, and described the personalized narration of the Haitian countryside. They bonded over farming and visited a sugar cane distillery. The rest of us, in vans, had to forge a 2-foot deep river and were delayed when the first van got stuck on the far bank of the river. Within minutes about 10-15 Haitians had tied a rope to the front of the van and were helping to pull us out of the ditch. Special kudos must go to Ashley, Shannon, and Brian for springing into action and helping to push and rock the van out of the ditch.

After another few hours on the road, we joined Vinny and Dave who have been here for a few days. They have very graciously scoped out a new local bar, conveniently located across the street from St. Gabriel's School. We are currently listening to their music as we type this up now on the rooftop. The rest of our group is busy unpacking our medications and setting up clinic.

We are all well fed after a delicious meal "of authentic Haitian grub" (credit to Mike R for that one). There was rice, chicken, pasta, fried plantains, salad... and of course authentic Haitian Coca Cola, Sprite, and Prestige (a favorite local beer).  St. Gabriel's has generously provided beds, sheets, towels and mosquito nets for us all, we will be very comfortable this week.

We look forward to updating you during the week, but for now we are signing off to star gaze and prepare for tomorrow. 

Peace, Love and Puppy Dogs Colleen, Mike R, Connor and the crew



Bonswa Zanmi Nou (Good evening our friends),

We had a very exciting first day of clinic, with one home clinic at St. Gabriel's School in Fontaine and one travel clinic in nearby Savonnet. In total we saw over  200 patients.

One notable patient at the home clinic was a man who was paralyzed from the waist down who had constructed his own hand powered scooter. Unfortunately, he had several  problems including pressure ulcers and incontinence. It was a team effort with Melissa and Dr. Ahn dressing his ulcers, Max donating underwear and Rich donating pants. We counseled the patient briefly and he will be returning for further care tomorrow. After clinic, Connor and Syed sawed and sanded a board that the patient will be able to use to transfer from his scooter. We will keep you updated!

For the first time ever, we have HIV testing available. We previously suspected patients of having HIV but lacked the ability to test for it. Unfortunately we had   two positive tests today. It was a very sobering moment for the group. Dave Lloyd and Vinny were responsible for delivering the difficult diagnosis. We counseled these patients and made arrangements for them to receive free treatment from government clinics.

A third of the group that went to the travel clinic had a hectic but gratifying experience. They saw patients ranging from 6 months to 95 years old. They saw a population  with similar medical conditions to the clinic in Fontaine, but equally under-served and appreciative of our help. We ended the day with a rooftop reflection and although it was great, people are eager to go to sleep so they are ready for another full day tomorrow.

Na we pita (see you later)! Max, Megan L. and Megan H.



Dear family, friends and others,

Today was our second day of clinic in Haiti! We started this morning with an optional rooftop discussion with the translators before clinic began. Several students,  doctors and almost all the Haitian translators attended. The purpose of the discussion was for the Haitians and Americans to get to know each other better and to help the Haitians further develop their English skills. We split off into small groups, each composed

 of Haitians and Americans. As almost all the translators are Christian (either Catholic or Protestant), they read a passage from the Bible and discussed it in their small groups. We also discussed our different cultures and to our surprise, we discovered that Haitian engagements and weddings are very similar to those in the US!!

After our morning huddle with the whole team, half of our team and translators drove out to Saintiacre, which is 30 minutes away from Fontaine. They turned a rustic church into a clinic for the day. In Saintiacre, we saw 74 patients with the majority having UTI's, URI's, stomach pain and knee pain. We also treated some sexually transmitted diseases with gluteal injections. There were two patients with cataracts who had become

 completely blind, and the team was excited to hear that there is a group of ophthalmologists coming in February to perform eye surgeries which can reverse blindness due to cataracts. Dr. Holmes gave a health education talk to those outside waiting their turn to be seen in the clinic. He also gave a quick lesson to several on team about how to make balloon animals. We made many of these creatures and gave them away to lots of delighted children. We're learning all sorts of interesting new things on this trip!

The group who remained in Fontaine saw 124 patients. We were excited by the number of pregnant women who came to clinic today. We were able to use our portable ultrasound  machine to evaluate the fetuses and the Haitian women were really excited to be able to see an image of their babies. Many were surprised they could see the heart beating and were mostly just concerned that their babies were healthy. One woman who looked like she could be due any day, told us she thought she was 2 months pregnant. We were able to use the ultrasound to determine that she was actually at least 5 months pregnant instead!

On another note, the paralyzed gentleman came back to clinic today and we were able to create a transfer board for him and teach him how to use his upper body strength to move more independently between surfaces.

After clinic ended, we all took a walk to the local orphanage and performed physical exams on the children. On the way home, we made sure to make a pit stop at the  newly made "bar" where we all drank a beer and listened to Haitian music.

During dinner, we were able to meet Brother Bill who returned to Haiti today. He is originally from the D.C. area and has been living in the school here in Fontaine teaching English. We enjoyed a meal of rice and beans, chicken, fried plantains, and cookies.

Our rooftop discussion involved a presentation by 3rd year medical student, Ally, on GERD. We had a review of the day, including cases from both the travel and St. Gabriel's clinic. We also talked about the availability of healthcare for the people of Haiti. There is one clinic and one hospital in Pignon, about 20 minutes away by car. We were surprised to learn that the only dialysis unit is in Port-au-Prince, which is at least 5 hours by car. Port-au-Prince is also where people have to go if they need a CT scan or MRI (and can afford it).


Lastly, a group ended the night with a game of Mafia on the rooftop which caused some healthy competition between the students.


Orevwa (Creole for goodbye), Brigid O., Mercede S. Ashley S., and Ally M.


(To be continued)

Sarah Goh