A Surgeon’s Perspective

Our first surgical team recently traveled to Haiti to perform surgeries in our new surgical center at Peredo Community Hospital. Megan Schreiber, HCO Director of Medical Partnerships, led this team from Northpointe Surgical Center (OH), and we asked one of the surgeons to share her experience.

The first time I was asked to go to Haiti, I was a 4th year resident on the Hand surgery service. Dr. Nina Njus was a hand surgeon at the Crystal Clinic in Akron where I trained. She had gone numerous times to Haiti on medical mission trips. I was a little nervous but excited to go. In the fall before our trip, Dr. Njus had gotten sick, with what was later determined to be a return of her breast cancer, a fight she had already fought and won years early. She died in the Spring of my last year in residency. So when the opportunity to again go to Haiti with HCO and my co-workers at Northpointe Surgical Suites came up, I knew I had to go. This place had meant so much to Dr. Njus, and she wasn’t able to return. It was my way of thanking her for all she’d done to make me who I was.

Despite all of the above, going to Haiti on a mission trip was way out of my comfort zone. I had prayed a lot about the trip and time I’d be away from my family. Three weeks before I left, I was baptized by my uncle at the church I grew up in. It just seemed like the right time, and it was at that time that I knew I was going to be just fine. It was amazing how the worry and doubt faded away into excitement. The trip couldn’t come fast enough. With a lot of faith and a little help we made it to Peredo.  Culture shock was an understatement. Pictures couldn’t prepare you for it. It was one of the most beautiful places on earth and yet one of the poorest locations I’ve ever been to. Seeing hundreds of people working to survive, walking miles for water, and kids looking hungry, I couldn’t help but think: How, in 2019, does this happen?

Staying at the HCO campus allowed me to understand, to ask questions, and to interact with numerous Haitians. Going to church alongside them, and despite not even speaking their language, their love for God was evident. I have never been greeted by so many strangers in my lifetime as I was in Haiti. They made eye contact, said hello, and waved. It didn’t matter if we were walking down the road, in church, or working at the hospital. People of all ages, all had a sense of welcoming. Children would come and just want hold or grab your hand to walk with you. Mothers handed you their babies to hold.

Working on setting up, organizing, and then finally seeing patients at the hospital was a sense of familiarity for me. This is what I knew. All three physicians, myself, Dr. Allen, and Dr. Brautigan frequently saw a single patient as a team. The language barrier was hard at times, but having three sets of perspectives and plans made it work. Working alongside my senior partners was an invaluable experience to me. It wasn’t as easy as it is here in the States. We had a limited pharmacy, limited surgical options and tools, and limited resources. Despite this, we did the best we could with what we had, and I have never seen patients so appreciative. It was the most rewarding feeling.

We removed an external fixator that a gentleman had had on for over 8 months due to a femur fracture. We used tools to get the device off. All the incisions were cleaned and dressed. The X-ray that was taken and showed the bone had healed but was about 5 inches shorter. Judge Joseph made a shoe lift out of a simple post op shoe that we found. An hour after surgery, the patient was standing, upright and level, for the first time in 8 months. It literally took us 30 minutes to do, and I felt like we should be able to do so much more for him if we had more things. But seeing him stand and seeing his expressions, I knew we had changed his life. Again despite the language barrier, he and his family were so thankful and left after hugging the entire team.

I entered Haiti thinking it had to be the poorest county on earth. It may still be, but the people there love God, love their neighbors, and love life. I left knowing they are far richer than most people I’ve met. Because of this, there is no question that this will not be the last time I am in Haiti.

Dr. Vanessa Falk
Northpointe Surgical Team
April 2019