St. Damien Hospital: Focusing on the GOOD in Haiti

“People talk about everything that is wrong with Haiti instead of focusing on what is right with the country.” Saint Damien’s founder, Father Rick

We arrived at Saint Damien pediatric hospital on a Tuesday afternoon after spending the morning surrounded by beautiful and energetic children at a primary school and medical clinic outside Port-Au-Prince. The few stories I had heard about Saint Damien’s hospital came from Chuck Haupt (Executive Director of MedShare’s Western Region) and Sandy Tytel (Chair of MedShare’s New York Council) who visited the organization directly following the earthquake in their selfless disaster relief efforts.  They described their experiences with an understandable sense of chaos and sadness as victims of all ages covered the lawn, porches, beds and hallways. Chuck had a vivid memory of tents covering any free space as the structure flooded with people. Sandy’s shared memories of delivering antibiotics and pediatric crutches from North Shore LIJ (Medshare’s partner in NY) with her daughter Jen. She recalls the sight of so many helpless children suffering and in need of medical attention as something they will never forget. Needless to say, we were all prepared to leave with a heavy heart.

Saint Damien is a pediatric hospital that operates under a parent organization called NPH (Nuestras Pequenos Hermanos). NPH started almost 50 years as an orphanage in Mexico and now operates in 79 countries (notably in South America). Originally, Saint Damien was an orphanage and later a pediatric hospital. Because it sustained very little structural damage after the earthquake, Saint Damien’s became the most high functioning hospital in Port-Au-Prince immediately following the quake.  MedShare has provided supplies and equipment to Saint Damien’s in the past with a recent shipment in 2012.

Over the last three years, the 100-bed pediatric hospital and 200-child orphanage has expanded with a 50-bed maternity ward. One of our guides, Brigid, pointed out that only 1 in 3 births take place in a hospital so there was an urgent need to improve women’s healthcare and focus on high risk pregnancies. We also found it particularly impressive that they host the only pediatric oncology ward in the entire country. Although it is never easy to see children with illnesses and in pain, there was a sense of hope and promise to see the kids attended to and receiving the medical care they deserve.

A medical resident from Minnesota was delighted to find out that our MedShare group had brought them some much needed supplies.  For example, he said the hospital is completely out of non-sterile, exam gloves of all sizes.  We had some in the boxes we carried in and left knowing that they would be put to immediate good use.  (A big shout-out to our wonderful product donors like Kimberly-Clark who routinely provide us with gloves and to every volunteers who has checked and packed a box of gloves for shipping!)

While there is an endless list of needs both ideologically and tangibly, we left Saint Damien with a sense of hope and happiness. The dedicated staff and volunteers of 500 (Father Rick, Dan, Dr. Gauthier and Brigid) are determined to continue to improve the conditions, research and organization. We all look forward to following St. Damien growth and long term success.

Post written by: Sandy Tytel, Chair of MedShare’s New York Council

Ginny Knott, Member of MedShare’s New York Council

Fifi Knott