By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — More than 1,700 Haitians were assisted during a recent medical and dental mission in Jean Denis, Haiti. Thirty-one people from Bettendorf, Muscatine and other communities participated in the annual mission sponsored by the Haitian Connection of St. John Vianney Parish.
Trip organizer Ann Wester said 15 St. John Vianney parishioners, seven from Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine and nine others from Catholic and non-Catholic parishes made the mission trip. They assisted 1,501 patients at the medical clinic and 286 at the dental clinic. The group also distributed 494 pairs of eye glasses and 506 pairs of sunglasses.
“Although we saw many patients, it isn’t about the numbers,” Wester said. “It is about the compassion and the one-on-one caring from each of the team members to the patients. For many patients, we could not change the prognosis but we could try to make them more comfortable with the medications that we had and give them comfort care and love. It was very humbling.”
St. John Vianney parishioner Melissa Pajunen felt the need to go to Haiti even without a medical background. She learned of needs and roles for non-medical volunteers. For the majority of the trip, she worked in the checkout area doing paperwork. She spent time assisting fellow parishioner Dr. Mark Blaser, which inspired her. She also got to take some patients’ vital signs.
“I feel you can get a sense of the people from their children … I found them to be joyful, grateful and loving. And did I mention adorable? They are beautiful!” She believes the Haitian Connection is doing what God asks all to do — help those in need.
“There is a great need in Haiti. People should know that SJV is making a difference and that their contributions and donations of needed items and prayers are making a difference in the lives of those in Jean Denis.”
She encourages others to consider a mission trip. “If you have a chance to experience Haiti, or another underdeveloped country, I highly recommend it. The people are grateful for the assistance and the experience is life changing and rewarding.”
Kevin Cassat made his fifth mission trip with St. John Vianney. “Each team and each year are so special and have given me so much happiness to serve,” he said. He was hesitant to make his first trip in 2013 but was inspired by Wester’s description of her experience and the team’s impact on people who are less fortunate.
After that first trip, he said he was touched by the Haitian people and the kindness of the St. John Vianney parishioners to be a bridge. “I am reminded that we are all God’s people and I have been blessed to serve others.” The people of Jean Denis “have very little resources and means yet they are so grateful, appreciative, and so many of them help each other. They are so kind. I’ve seen a young starving boy share a single peanut butter cracker given to him with his siblings. He could have eaten it all himself.”
Cassat recalled another act of kindness. “A young boy ran along with our bus (we were lost). He stumbled and fell, brushed himself off, and kept running just to make sure we found our destination. He always had a smile and kept waving his arms — this way, this way — as he ran along with our bus. We didn’t speak the same language and had no translator, yet he knew we needed help.”
As a pharmacist, Cassat has helped the team prepare the prescription medications before the trip and assist the providers during the mission.
“I also get the wonderful opportunity to work with so many caring people on the medical team and to share this experience with my lovely wife, Diane, who is also a pharmacist.”
The mission trips benefit greatly from the generous contributions, time and support from Genesis Health System and St. John Vianney parishioners, Cassat said. “So many give financially, some donate over-the-counter medications, some help us repack the medications, and some help us prepare supplies for the week-long mission.”
In addition to medical and clinic supplies (worth more than $10,000), the team also brought eight soccer balls, hats and other supplies, Wester said. Her grandson, Ethan Braun of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, Ill., made an Eagle Scout project of collecting items for the trip. He also participated in the mission.
He collected 559 tubes of toothpaste, 613 toothbrushes, 360 containers of dental floss, 523 hats and 389 pairs of sunglasses. That was added to everything St. John Vianney donated. “We had to save some hats for next year because we didn’t have enough room,” Wester said.