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Haiti children hit by earthquake touch the heart of Ripon nurse

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POSTED February 23, 2010 1:42 a.m.
(First in a series centered on the Ripon medical team’s humanitarian effort in making a difference for the people of Haiti)

RIPON — It was the children who made the greatest impact on Ripon’s medical team that headed to that island nation last week.

The team of four definitely made a difference in their weeklong stay – bringing back many memories they would like to forget, but realizing they did accomplish what  they went to do:  delivering love and medical care to a suffering population.

“People are without clothes, without food, without water, without medical care, without housing – it’s widespread, it’s not just one block – it’s all of Port-au-Prince,” Bethany Home Director of Nurses Gaya Forest said of her trip on Monday.

Asked about what had the greatest impact on her, the veteran Ripon RN replied, “Oh, the children!” as she dropped her head and gazed downward, her eyes frozen locked on her desk.  Tears began to form at the corners of her eyes – it was indeed the children.  At that point she choked up and was unable to talk.

The medical team made up of Dr. Kent Hufford, MD, his two medical assistants and Forest flew out of San Francisco International Airport on Thursday evening, Feb. 11, and arrived in Haiti the next morning.  

“We set up a base camp at the International Faith Missions (IFM) compound which is 30 some miles outside of Port-au-Prince.  Saturday morning we rode into Port-au-Prince on the back of a flat bed truck.  It took about two and a half hours one way every day.  We were on a tennis court under the auspicious of (MERLIN) Medical Emergency Medical Relief International,” she said.

She added that there was a British team there of orthopedic surgeons and plastic surgeons cleaning up with the emergency surgery they performed with amputations and all the damage that was done.    

“Dr. Hufford on that first day worked in surgery.  I worked with a medical team with the director of (IFM) Juanita Zook and her husband Alvin “Fay” and Melissa worked in the lab, because Fay has his degree in medical technology.  Sarah observed in surgery and I worked with Juanita in the clinic,” she recalled.

Forest said they saw whoever came into the clinic area – seeing over 100 patients a day.  They were met with everything from typhoid, malaria primarily, as well as wounds that were not healing and lots of little children with various sundry things plaguing them.

“There was so much pollution in the air because of smoke, dust, garbage and all the other stuff that goes on with those kinds of catastrophes.  There were a lot of infections, respiratory infections, intestinal infections, skin infections, a lot of fungal infections, because the people have no clean water – there’s no place to bathe,” she stressed.

She said it’s pretty much survival with them living in dirt in tents that are makeshift from things they get out of the garbage.  “It’s just like those commercials that you see on TV where the children are playing in garbage – it’s just like that – only this time the affluent people do not have a home.”

Forest described their homes as being totally crushed.  The whole downtown of Port-au-Prince looks like someone dropped a bomb on it, she said. It’s just rubble.

Telephone poles and electric poles are hanging down to the ground.  

“The police are trying to stop the thugs that are out there, because gangs have pretty much been roaming the streets …  Then you have people who are street vending – selling whatever they can scrape together,” she said.

Missionaries are there, she added, having seen them in different areas where they have their clinics set up to treat the people so much in need.

“The United States especially is there very visibly giving medical care and the armed forces are there handing out food, water and tents.  You really see the United States everywhere,” she said.

The reaction she received from the Haitian people who talked with her – those who could speak English – said they were very thankful that the Americans had come, because the Americans gave them hope.

The rationale was that if America came and America stayed to help them then they knew that things were going to get better.  Conversely, if the United States didn’t come, or if they pulled out, then they would know that there was nothing more that could be done.  

“So, they were very grateful,” she said.

It was the first day back at work for Gaya Forest on Monday.  Not only was her schedule jam packed,  but other staffers were wanting a piece of her day eager to hear about the successes of the humanitarian trip that obviously left a piece of all their hearts in Port-au-Prince – especially with the children.
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