By Anne Marie Amacher
More than 900 patients were seen in four days during a recent medical mission to Jean-Denis, Haiti, by a team that included members of Bettendorf’s St. John Vianney Parish.
“We joined with Hands Together of West Palm Beach during the summer of 2011 and again last month,” said Dr. Mark Blaser, a physician and member of St. John Vianney who participated in both medical missions.
The first trip was to determine whether future medical missions would be feasible for the Bettendorf parish. Having answered that question affirmatively, a group of nine St. John Vianney parishioners and four people from Hands Together made another trip Feb. 3-11 to Haiti where the Bettendorf parish has a twinning relationship with Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Jean-Denis.
Upon arrival, the group attended Sunday Mass and set up for their mission work. For the next four days they ran the clinic for 12 hours each day. On Friday they toured the area and saw projects that groups such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and others were engaged in. CRS assisted the St. John Vianney group with transportation to and from the airport.
In addition to providing medical treatment, the group made home visits, took water samples and assessed the needs of the community for possible future projects.
Blaser said the team provided the best medical treatment possible, given the limited facilities and equipment. “We did have a little excitement one day,” he noted. A girl was brought in unconscious and taken to the nearest hospital, which was over 30 minutes away by vehicle. Lack of paved roads and limited vehicles make it tough to get around.
At the Jean-Denis clinic, the team handed out tickets to patients on a first-come, first-serve basis, but also saw patients aside from those with tickets. “There were minor aches and pains that (in this country) we normally would go to the pharmacy for and get a pain reliever,” Blaser said. Those amenities are lacking in Haiti.
The team treated patients for a variety of conditions such as cellulitis and eczema, and other persistent skin conditions. Because patients had limited education, volunteers gave explanations at about a first-grade level of reading comprehension. “They are intelligent and sophisticated people (in Haiti), but most are illiterate,” Blaser said.
The group brought 750 pounds of medical supplies and 700 handmade rosaries, said Ann Wester, chair for The Haiti Connection at St. John Vianney Parish.
“I was so impressed by the appreciation of the Haitians in the simple medical care we provided them. Their hugs and kisses were priceless. It was obvious we were giving them hope for the future,” she said.
“This trip was very gratifying and I’d like to do more,” Blaser said.
Parishioner Todd Richard, a physical therapist, provided therapy services and dispensed prescriptions on the mission. “It was a wonderful experience. We provided a lot to the people and I learned a lot from them, too. There is such a great need there.”
The Haitians’ gratitude and faith impressed him. “They are so appreciative for even the littlest thing. I have learned to be more grateful for what I have. Although we may feel the Haitians have little, they are full of spirit, especially the way they worship our Lord and live their lives. They were a great example to me.”
The Haiti Connection committee shared a report about its trip in the parish bulletin of Feb. 19. The group will continue to assess the needs of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish and the Jean-Denis area and determine how St. John Vianney will support those efforts, Wester noted.
“It is unbelievable to see such poverty, but (the people) still have faith in God and hope for the future,” she said. “We can learn so much from the people of Jean-Denis.”