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June 22, 2010     617 Words

Helping the People of Haiti

CINCINNATI—When CNN first broadcast the images of collapsed buildings and children being extricated from Haiti's earthquake rubble last January, Edgar A. Gamboa, M.D., FACS, a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Filipino-American, thought of his friend, the papal nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza. After Gamboa e-mailed him and offered assistance, the archbishop accepted. Dr. Gamboa, over the course of two trips to Haiti, along with teams of medical personnel and volunteers, faced unimaginable devastation in the wake of the earthquake. Consequently, his faith was changed and deepened.

Dr. Ed Gamboa writes about his extraordinary experiences in Haiti, the country's continuing efforts in rebuilding and ways each of us can help in St. Anthony Messenger's July cover article, "Bringing Help and Hope to Haiti." After June 22, the article will be posted at: http://www.AmericanCatholic.org.

An estimated 250,000 people died from an earthquake that destroyed the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and wiped out whatever fragile infrastructure the city had. Before the disaster, unemployment was at 80 percent. Minimum wage was $1.75-$3 per day. An estimated 50 percent of school-age children do not attend school, and more than 90 percent of education is accomplished by nongovernmental agencies such as the Catholic Church and private individuals. Many schools were destroyed.

Dr. Gamboa arrived for his first trip in January with antibiotics, wound-care supplies and surgical instruments. At St. François Hospital in Haiti, Archbishop Auza showed Gamboa what remained of "Hospital Saint François de Sales." Though surrounded by traumatized patients sheltered under makeshift tents, they were beaming, happy to see the nuncio's surgeon-friend.

Dr. Gamboa had his work cut out for him: One million homeless people were camping in tents throughout Port-au-Prince or wandering the streets, starving and desperate. Before the last tremor stopped, hospital personnel ran through falling debris to rescue people and retrieve x-ray and ultrasound machines. Tents on the hospital grounds soon sheltered trauma patients, and makeshift wards expanded daily.

The following March, Dr. Gamboa returned to Haiti with his wife, Dr. Lucie Noel Gamboa, a pediatrician. But progress was slow. He was discouraged to find that, weeks after the quake, countless patients were still in need of treatment. In the United States, physicians and nurses rarely see patients with tetanus. At St. François de Sales Hospital, Dr. Gamboa saw a 16-year-old boy, terminally ill with spastic paralysis, lockjaw and labored breathing, as a consequence of a minor wound infected with tetanus. Dr. Gamboa was unable to treat both. That could have been averted by timely vaccination. Only a third of the population, however, has access to medical care and half the children are not immunized.

Nevertheless, the world responded. United Nations agencies were rapidly mobilized and deployed. International search and rescue teams, medical and surgical contingents and various nonprofit and humanitarian organizations—the International Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis, Oxfam and many others—aided disaster victims, a third of Haiti's population.

The United States government pledged $100 million in aid and dispatched soldiers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to assist. The U.S. Navy's hospital ship USS Comfort offered specialized medical and surgical care. About 500 critically injured patients were treated at the University of Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital and other medical centers.

Dr. Gamboa, despite the unspeakable hardships he witnessed in Haiti, is still optimistic. "I remain hopeful because I see the strength and resilience of the Haitian people," he says. "Compassionate and sustained involvement is clearly the key to rebuilding Haiti."

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Permission is granted to reprint this release.

The other article posted will be
"Eucharist: Where Gratitude Becomes Mission"
"Eucharist: Where Gratitude Becomes Mission"

 


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