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Ripon physician coordinates food packets for Haiti

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POSTED February 24, 2010 2:07 a.m.
RIPON — Ripon’s Dr. Kent Hufford, M.D. returned from Haiti this week confident that his humanitarian medical team had made a difference in their trip to Haiti.

However, Hufford wants to do even more in a country that has seen 200,000 deaths and at least that many homeless.

He said he has established contacts with people on the ground where any funds sent to the earthquake ravaged island will go directly to those in the most need.   

Medics  are handing out small food packages at the Port-au-Prince clinic that are made up of eight cups of rice, four cups of beans and a small bottle of vegetable oil.   He noted that he was confident any humanitarian contributions sent to him for the people of Haiti would go directly to those suffering in the streets through the director of the mission he served.

Hufford said when he and his three team members arrived in the country  they were amidst three days of prayer and fasting in a community demonstrating its strong faith in God.  

“When we drove in on Saturday (on a flatbed truck) going into the clinic and back we passed several outdoor services.  When we went to the local church there on Sunday morning it was packed,” he said.  “In fact the church, where we stayed, is adding on to the building because it’s too full.”

Hufford spent his first day in surgery dealing with old wounds and one skin graft assisting other surgeons associated with Inter Faith Missions (IFM).

Treated everything from malaria to colds
Working in the clinic for the rest of his weeklong stay he treated patients – from two years old to 70 – with malaria, lots of colds caused from exposure and seeing many Haitians with high levels of anxiety who couldn’t sleep at night.

The Ripon physician said the fact that his team did not arrive right after the earthquake occurred kept them from seeing the more acute injuries during their effort.  They were dealing with victims who didn’t have shelter or clean water supplies.  So, from that standpoint,  the patients they saw were not much different than those they treated in Honduras.

“The biggest thing there was their need for food and shelter,” he said.

Hufford noted there are a lot of aid groups in the country now, but he chose to work with the (IFN) because they have been long established in the region.  He feels they will continue to be there down the road.  While all the groups are filling a need,  the (IFN) has a vested interest in the country because that is their life’s work, he said.

The Ripon doctor has long demonstrated a passion to help people in the Third World countries with past humanitarian trips to Honduras where he also found a need for doctors and nurses.  

“You’ve got to realize the way we live is just a small percent of how the world lives,” Hufford said.  “A lot of us are just trying to give back a little bit so the blessings we have can be shared with those that don’t have them.  When you go to Haiti, and a situation like this, you realize there is so much that needs to be done – in a sense there is so little you can do individually.  You just try to make a difference in somebody’s life.”

Two young women – sisters Sarah and Melissa – were instrumental in the success of the medical team’s mission.  They had left their duties as medical assistants at the Ripon doctors’ office to join in the trip to Haiti.  Hufford said he felt such volunteerism by other young people for a week or two each year in a Third World country would be highly beneficial to their growth and appreciation of how other cultures endure hardships.

Makes you appreciate what you have in USA
“It makes you appreciate what you have,  and realize your responsibility to help others,” he said.

Hufford’s grandfather was a school teacher in Indiana for most of his life and he had held him up as an example, a role model.

“I got interested in health care in some fashion more than anything from a friend who was a respiratory therapist,” he said.  First Hufford, too,  worked as a respiratory therapist, later becoming a registered nurse at Modesto Junior College and finally going on to medical school.

As for Haiti he said he was impacted emotionally by the need in that country.  “This is not going to go away in a short time – there is going to be a long-term need,” he stressed.

The other thing is the children, he added.  Kids are kids and seeing their big smiles and their faces light up when giving them just a small bag of cookies is a positive image he brought back to Ripon with him.  

“A lot of them had waited all day to see us (for treatment) and so we would give them a package of cookies along with a water bottle,” he added.

The Ripon medical team stayed on the Inter Faith Missions compound 35 miles outside of Port-au-Prince where the (IFM) has a church and a school along with dormitories where volunteers can stay at night when they are volunteering in the country.

The (IFM)  hosted the team making sure they had breakfast and dinner at the beginning and the end of their long days of  treating the members of the Haitian community.  Their only form of transportation back and forth to the clinic in Port-au-Prince was on a flat bed truck.  The clinic was set up at a tennis club in the downtown area where medical tents had been set up welcoming and treating the many patients – more than 100 each day.

He said he has been talking to a number of people because of the on-going need for nurses at the clinic.  When the hospital pulls out at the end of next month for the predicted lack of patients, those in need are expected to go to the (IFM) compound for their health care needs at its full-time outpatient clinic and where a new hospital is currently under construction.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Hufford at his Ripon office for more information.  “You can even fly to Port-au-Prince now which is helpful,” he said.  “Down the road I think there is going to be quite a need for those in construction.”
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