I have been traveling and reading Hemispheres Magazine on United. I am always excited when I open the mag and see my friend, Sonya Jackson, managing director Corporate Social Investment for United and president of the United Airlines Foundation. Last month (March) the article was about United’s response and action to provide assistance in Haiti. From coordinating logistics with the military and other relief efforts to collaborating with partners on the materiel needed in Haiti.

In April, Hemispheres presented background and information on the USNS Comfort, the Navy’s mercy-class hospital shop. The article was written by Stephan Talty. Please read it in full here. I did not know there is talk in Congress about de-commissioning the ship – too slow, too expensive, and anachronism when today’s crises require a fast response.

Stats I didn’t know…did you?

  • 900 foot ship
  • 1,000 bed, state of the art hospital on water
  • Staffed by 850 Navy doctors, nurses and corpsmen.
  • $19M in medical equipment (I don’t know how that compares to a land based hospital
  • 12 operating rooms
  • Four x-ray rooms
  • Four ultrasounds
  • Telemedicine access to specialist stateside to advise in real time
  • Staff are pulled from National Navy Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center with less than 24 hours notice when the Comfort is called to service

Of interest on this sailing, Dr. Mill Etienne, a neurologist who was born in Port-au-Prince and left with his family in 1981 during the violent Duvalier regime. Talk about personal!

I reaped the benefits of my parents coming to the U.S., And I now I’m giving back to the two countries I love. It’s a very special thing.

I have followed the relief efforts in Haiti and made contributions as my very little way of reaching out. But reading this article was different than watching a television news account or reading a newspaper article. Maybe it was my patriotic pride knowing the Comfort was anchored near Haiti offering help. The story behind the story of the people of Comfort and what they do moved me.

Three or four helicopters circle the Comfort waiting to land, discharging two or three patients at a time. I imagine very lucky patients who were found, and determined needed what the Comfort offered – skilled medical staff and equipment that may be able to save a limb or life.

First in was a nine-year-old boy, Jean, who had been pinned under some fallen bricks,

I have a nine-year-old at home, said Captain Shawn Safford, pediatric surgeon. And this boy doesn’t know where his parents are. He has his Dad’s cell phone number…but I don’t know.

This simple sentence, even now, brings tears to my eyes. Yes Jean is hurt and needs help. But he is nine, doesn’t know where his parents are, took a helicopter ride away from home, is now on a ship with many people he does not know. He is NINE – no Mom or Dad in the emergency room with him. I have no doubt everyone on the comfort is well trained. But I could not imagine what he was feeling, how scared or shocked he was. Fixing “stuff” when it goes wrong is easy – I am talking about the emotional side.

Comfort handled 85 patients the first two days. Many with fractures. Dr. William Todd, a pediatric surgeon specializing in fractures, handled intake. 

With limbs come function,” he said, “and in poor countries, function is life.

OMG – really? Another layer. Sure I thought about all the injured people and many who lost their life. But what about life after earthquake. When Haiti is, I hate to say “back to normal” because its’ normal is a tough one….now add on children and parents or adults who tried to earned the family money who can’t walk or write or jobs that are no longer available. Or a country that doesn’t have the ability to provide physical rehabilitation or support. How does a country and its people survive that?  Haiti was on the edge before the earthquake – now hundreds of thousands of its people are sick or hurt.

Reading these two articles while flying on business, the enormity of the Haiti crisis hit me. Water, food, shelter, medical relief – that’s only for now, today, one patient at a time. What will the country do and we to help? Frankly, I don’t have answers, I am sorry to say. But here are some organizations that do. I can’t leave and go to Haiti but am investing my money with some of the organizations listed – because I think they are making a difference on the ground now. And I know you have too.

We have an idea of what the immediate needs are….but what happens when the media goes away and we don’t hear stories anymore? And the people of Haiti, injured and not are trying to rebuild their LIVES in a country that has crumbled.

BTW – Jean, the nine-year-old, was helped by those on the USNS Comfort. They called Dad’s cell phone…and he answered…a bit of relief while reading the article – but then…now what? A family re-connected but a country that can’t help Jean and so many others like him.

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