Published July 16, 2013
Their Haitian seaport hometown may seem idyllic, but residents of Les Cayes who need medical care face severe obstacles, University at Buffalo faculty-physicians and students learned during a Hope for Tomorrow Foundation medical mission.
A single hospital—with a part-time surgical staff—serves about a million people.
Those who need surgery must pay for their own surgical supplies, forcing many poor families to raise funds on their own.
Les Cayes’ local hospital “is an awful place by any standards,” says Robert J. Smolinski, MD, clinical associate professor of orthopaedics and a board member of the Williamsville, N.Y.-based foundation.
Although the town was not directly affected by Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, Les Cayes “has been neglected medically,” as resources have been concentrated in the hard-hit Port-au-Prince area, he explains.
Across Haiti, medical care is “extremely poor, not necessarily from a lack of physician skill, but more from lack of supplies and limited opportunities for physicians to train in more modern techniques,” he adds.
Smolinski was happy to volunteer his skills and expertise as part of a 30-person medical mission earlier this year.
“I find it a very rewarding experience to help those in dire need,” he says. “The Haitians were generally very appreciative and thankful for the care they received.”
Smolinski has participated in four Hope for Tomorrow medical missions—two in Haiti and one each in Vietnam and Armenia.
During his four years of involvement, one-third to one-half of participating physicians have been UB faculty-physicians, he says.
The spring 2013 Haiti team involved five physicians, including two other UB orthopaedic specialists: Mark J. Anders, MD, clinical associate professor, and Craig E. Blum, MD, clinical assistant professor.
The team performed about 20 orthopaedic and multiple plastic surgical procedures in a week, with support from accompanying medical professionals and students, including three UB students.
The group’s expertise and helping hands were put to use in myriad, sometimes dramatic, ways.
They resuscitated a newborn nearly strangled by her umbilical cord. They fixed a boy’s broken IV, delivering delayed pain relief—before setting his broken leg, wrists and elbow.
In addition, they donated and transported thousands of dollars’ worth of medical supplies to the town’s Immaculate Conception Hospital.
They also donated supplies and gifts to a local orphanage.
Students are welcome to participate in Hope for Tomorrow missions, but all participants pay their own expenses.
“Students have the opportunity to be part of a medical team and scrub into surgery,” Smolinksi says.
They also experience a Third World country from the inside and “see what a lot of the world lives like,” he adds. They learn that although the U.S. health care system has its critics, “some places don’t have health care systems.”
The group also met with Haitian leaders, including Les Cayes Bishop Chibley Langlois and Haiti’s ousted ex-president Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Pamela A. White.
The high-level dialogues helped raise awareness and support for Hope for Tomorrow’s work.