Medical Mission to Haiti

Medical Mission to Haiti


Daemen Students Travel with Hope for Tomorrow Foundation to Provide Health Care in Earthquake-Ravaged Country

June 29, 2011



Contact:     Mike Andrei

                 Director-College Relations





           More than 200,000 people perished on January 12, 2010 in Haiti when the earth shook violently for a few seconds during the 7.0 earthquake that rattled the small Caribbean nation over a year and a half ago. Mountains of rubble still stand, as do the tent cities that are the only shelter for hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed in the disaster. It was a world away from Western New York.

           “It was just shocking and heartbreaking to see what the residents of Haiti are still going through, on a daily basis, a year-and-a-half after the earthquake,” said Virginia Kaufman, a student in the Daemen College Physician Assistant Program. Kaufman arrived in Haiti in late May with other Daemen medical and physical therapy students and a group of eight Western New York doctors to provide much-needed health care during a five day trip to the earthquake-ravaged nation.

           The group had traveled to Haiti with the Williamsville, New York, based Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, which had organized the trip, to provide surgical and other treatments to the impoverished town of Les Cayes, on the country’s southwest peninsula. Photos from the trip can be seen on our Flickr Channel. 

           Dr. Jeffrey Meilman, Chairman of the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation and a member of the Daemen College Board of Trustees, has traveled the world providing free medical and surgical care to residents of Third World countries. His work has changed the lives of many children who would have had to go through life disfigured. But the devastation that has resulted for the segment of the Haitian population that was hit by the January 2010 earthquake is particularly significant to him.

           "I have been doing this in a lot of countries for the last 20, 22 years. I can tell you this is one of the most needy places,” he stated.

           To emphasize his point, Dr. Meilman noted that Les Cayes is a segment of Haiti’s population that has not seen a general surgeon for seven years.

           “The hospital serves a population of about 1 million. So this means there have been no gall bladder surgeries, no tumor removals, orthopedic operations, nothing during that time. There is a great need for health care in Haiti, but practically none of their national budget is dedicated for this.”  

           Daemen Director of Athletic Training Lynn Matthews, an assistant professor who holds a clinical doctorate in physical therapy, was also with the group. A lack of access to life’s basic amenities for many Haitian residents, especially clean water, she noted, presented increased risks.

           “I was certainly aware of the 2010 earthquake, and how it had devastated large portions of the country,” she said. “The challenges of recovering from such a huge disaster in a small, poor, nation are enormous – and the ongoing lack of health care can cost many more lives. There is no plumbing in the tent cities, and many are set up next to open sewers, which present additional health care challenges, due to a lack of clean water.”

           The Daemen students – Erika Funnell, who is enrolled in the Daemen Doctorate in Physical Therapy Program; Virginia Kaufman, an Ecuador/Long Island native pursuing a Master of Physician Assistant Studies; Michael Mank, a Daemen graduate and aspiring pre-med student; and Jessica Panepento, who is in the 1-2-1 Nursing Program at Daemen and Niagara County Community College – were each afforded many opportunities to assist in the 100 surgeries the team was able to perform during their five day visit. Carrie Wydysh, a UB graduate enrolled in the Physician Assistant Program at D’Youville College, and who assisted in vein surgeries on many of the patients, was an additional member of the group.

           Team members set up a triage and treatment operation at Immaculate Conception Hospital, a 1939-era structure in Les Cayes. By 8:30 a.m. they began seeing residents, many of whom had waited days, and who came in with conditions ranging from the readily treatable, such as hernias, glaucoma, and sprains, to others which required general surgery.

           “The first thing we had to do was ascertain who we could help and who we could not,” said Matthews. “On the first day, there were people lined up out the door waiting for us. Among the challenges we faced was having to set up a triage operation in a small room, working in 90 degree temperatures. It was definitely chaotic at times, but things moved along.

           “The students who were with us, under the guidance of the accompanying doctors, had valuable opportunities to get involved in procedures that went beyond what they had experienced in their education at that point.

           “One man walked in with a broken leg that had healed on the outside, and had never been set. Jessica Panepento worked with the doctors, chiseling down the bone that had healed incorrectly, then assisted in screwing a plate onto the bone, enabling it to heal straight.”

           “This was my first opportunity to assist in surgery,” said Michael Mank. “During the procedure, and talking about it afterward, I knew that going into medicine is the right decision for me.”

           “Residents waited patiently, some of them for days, for the opportunity to receive treatment,” said Wydysh. “They were understandably very excited about it – some of the people had not seen a doctor or nurse for years. We struggled a lot, through all of the disorganization, and we were able to see and treat a lot of patients. I was proud of what we accomplished.”

           One goal of the participating doctors was to teach the resident Haitian doctors the skills to continue the kinds of surgeries the group members were performing.

           “We were only there for a short time,” noted Dr. Hratch Karamanoukian, founder and director of Vein Treatment Centers in Western New York, “and so we were not able to treat everyone who needed care. By teaching these techniques to local, Haitian doctors, we would ensure that they will be able to treat some of those who will need surgery there in the future. And we were able to do that. I left all of my equipment and supplies with a physician there, who was able to perform vein procedures successfully by the time we left – and he has been in touch with me several times since we returned. He is now the first surgeon in that area to be able to do that type of procedure, so we are very pleased about that.

            “Our other goal, of course, was to allow the students who had traveled with us to also learn surgical techniques – suturing, sterilization techniques, and performing in an emergency care environment, which is demanding. This type of real life experience will help each student become a better surgeon, physician assistant, physical therapist – whatever the field they have chosen. It was a big goal of the trip to see if a program could be established to do these things safely and successfully, to allow Daemen health care students to participate on a regular basis. And we proved that it could.”

           Looking back, Dr. Matthews points out that providing much-needed treatment to a community which would otherwise not have access to modern health care enables students who are pursing health care careers to make an immediate difference in many lives.

           “Students who are in the process of becoming doctors, nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists – future practitioners in all of these fields, as well as others in health care – will gain valuable insight into their chosen career.

           “Athletic trainers benefit as well,” she added. “Daemen athletic trainers specialize in emergency care and triage. Involving future athletic trainers in this type of mission and experience will enable them to become better clinicians, especially in emergency care.”

           Group members noted that despite the formidable challenges faced by the residents of Haiti in daily life, that they retain a sense of optimism.

           “They were truly grateful for everything we did,” said Panepento. “Helping them was an amazing experience, and it makes me want to keep going back for more.”

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