By Mary O’KEEFE
Adventist Health of Glendale medical team travels to where they are needed most. From Haiti to Louisiana, these doctors and nurses are always ready to help.
“Once we heard about the earthquake [in Haiti] on Aug. 14, we had heard it was a 7.2,” said Dr. Evelyn Wong, Adventist Health Glendale.
She and her team Adventist had responded to the 2010 earthquake in the same region, a magnitude 7.0.
“All our minds were racing, wondering what type of disaster is this?” Wong asked.
When most of us hear about disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, the thought is ‘what can we send to the region to help?’ But for a team of doctors and nurses at Adventist Health Glendale, the thought is ‘time to pack a bag and get ready to go.’
On Aug. 14, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Reportedly 2,200 people lost their lives, and an estimated 12,000 were injured.
“We heard reports that people were still missing,” Wong added.
Haiti had not yet recovered from the 2010 earthquake, or hurricane Matthew in 2016, and in July, Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. All these hardships have created more and more chaos in the region.
Although Haiti needed help and needed it quickly, coordinating a medical team to travel to this country was not easy.
“We were going to land in Port-au-Prince and rent a bus to go to …Jeremie. Then we got word it was too dangerous and the safest way to go was to fly,” she said.
There had been stories of doctors being kidnapped and held for ransom when traveling the roads. But flights were difficult to find.
“We reached out to our usual air pilots,” Wong said.
But no one was available. The team even looked at getting a boat from Florida but that too was not possible. So with every flight booked, no boats and travel by bus too dangerous for the team, it looked pretty hopeless. Then Mission Aviation Fellowship contacted Wong and she was able to coordinate nine members of the team and said they had a flight.
Wong, who was staying in the states to coordinate the trip for her team, flew to Austin, Texas with medical supplies and met the team she had recruited and trained.
The team was able to get on the flight and landed in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, but then found that getting to where their help was so keenly needed was going to be difficult. Through trial and tribulation, the team finally made it to Jeremie.
When the team arrived at their destination, they treated at least 100 patients a day, mired in a sea of pain, suffering and hopelessness.
“The [people] had faced crisis upon crisis,” Wong said.
It was not just patients that were happy to see the Adventist team, but the overwhelmed Haitian doctors.
“They were so relieved and so moved that Adventist Health would send all this medication and [help],” she said.
She spoke of the lawlessness her team had witnessed, the chaos and how the people were so desperate for support.
“Security was a huge issue and continues to be a problem,” Wong said.
She shared one story of a man who had a spinal fracture. He was left behind by a transport and although the Adventist team had a spinal surgeon, logistics prevented them from helping the man. The team then went back to Port-au-Prince where Dr. Scott Nelson from Loma Linda University created, and is chief of surgery at, a state-of-the-art facility, Hôspital Adventiste. The surgeon that was part of Wong’s team was helping at Nelson’s hospital and his first patient was the man with a fractured spine who had been left behind. He had found transport and the surgeon was able to operate. The next day, the man showed signs of recovery.
The flight becoming available and the patient finding his way to the hospital for surgery are just two in a series of many fortunate instances Wong and her team have witnessed over the years.
“We have seen a bunch of miracles,” Wong said.
In 2010, Wong, who admits she was a bit naive to the danger around her, was in a small village in Haiti. One evening a father and his injured son came to their makeshift medical facility. They had survived the earthquake but as the father was clearing concrete with an axe, his seven-year-old son walked behind him and the axe struck the child in the head. The father carried the child down the mountains, by the time they arrived the boy was unable to walk or talk. It looked like there was no hope. Unfortunately, the facility that Wong was in was not equipped for the severity of the boy’s injuries.
There was a US Marine base that was close to Wong’s medical facility. She had already been told they could not air evacuate anyone so there was little hope to help the boy. They were in a remote jungle area but the US Marines said there was a soccer field where a helicopter could land a mile away.
“I thought, ‘what I need is a truck,’” she said.
And a white Jeep Cherokee with a red cross painted on it came down the road.
“It had nurses from America and they asked us how they could help,” she said.
She told the nurses about the boy.
“One of the nurses was a pediatric ICU nurse who said ‘this is what I do,’” Wong said.
They were able to get a helicopter to transport the child, his father and the pediatric nurse who went with them for support.
The nurse called me from Florida and said the boy had surgery and was walking and moving his limbs, Wong said.
Wong believes God is with them as they travel throughout the world to help, and He reveals himself through their work.
After their return from Haiti, the Adventist Health Glendale team once again prepared for travel and have now journeyed to Louisiana to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. They continue to work where they can, for all who need them, guided by their faith.
“Miracles happen to those who believe,” Wong said.