Pediatrician Dr. Lucie
Noel Gamboa asks her
surgeon husband, Dr. Ed
Gamboa, to examine eight-year-old Joana Derice's hand
infected with residual debris.
Surgical tech Noelia Castro
brings special instruments to
treat the wound.
PHOTO BY TOM TRACY
WHEN CNN FIRST broadcast
of collapsing buildings
and children being extricated
from Haiti's earthquake
rubble last January,
I thought of my friend, the papal nuncio to
Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito ("Barney") Auza.
I quickly e-mailed him: "Praying that you and
your people have been spared the disaster and
are faring well. Anything we can do for you?"
Thirteen hours after Haiti's worst earthquake
since 1770, he e-mailed back: "Thanks.
I survived but we are still camping outside. No
film can capture the gravity of the devastation.
Just horrible...thousands and thousands still
under rubble. +Barney."
"What can we do aside from donating to
Catholic Charities?" I responded. It was tough
to watch live on HDTV a poor Haitian girl
pinned under the rubble. I could easily do
amputations, repair wounds and take care of
various kinds of trauma, I wrote back. I could
check with the Red Cross, the Catholic Mission
Board and Doctors Without Borders, or I could
simply drop into Haiti, which I knew would
not be easy.
Archbishop Auza urged me to come to Haiti
quickly. "There is so much work to do now,"
he wrote. "It may be too late days from now."
He suggested I travel via Santo Domingo and
asked Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, his counterpart
in the Dominican Republic, to meet me
so I could join the convoy carrying provisions
to the apostolic nunciature in Pétionville, 200
kilometers across the border.
So on January 19 Dennis ("Pancho") Cook,
the unordained but de facto deacon of St.
Joseph's in Holtville, drove me to the San
Diego airport. The sleepy porter helped unload
the two boxes my pediatrician wife, Lucie,
and son John Paul had packed with medical
After two and a half days of travel, I was met
by Archbishop Auza's chauffeur, Bernard, who
delivered me safely to St. François de Sales
Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It is located
close to the epicenter of the 7.1-magnitude, 45-second, strike-slip earthquake which struck
on January 12, 2010.
An estimated 250,000 people died
from the earthquake that destroyed the
Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, shattered
lives, scattered families and wiped
out whatever fragile infrastructure the
city had. (For a variety of reasons, accurate
numbers are impossible to obtain.)
Arriving With Supplies
My wife and I had met Msgr. Barney in
1989 when he was in Rome doing postgraduate
work in canon law and sacred
theology at the University of St.
Thomas (the Angelicum). Despite a
busy schedule, he had always found
time to show us around Rome. On May
18, 2008, he was appointed nuncio in
Haiti. (Apostolic nuncios represent the
Holy See to national governments.
Archbishop Auza is one of only four Filipino
For hours after the quake, Archbishop
Auza toured Port-au-Prince with
his alternate chauffeur, Gilbert. After
assessing the widespread damage, he
filed the first comprehensive disaster
report to Agenzia Fides.
He also told Vatican Radio: "We are
in great distress. We have no water
reserves and gas stations are closed.
There is no electricity....We are in need
I arrived with two boxes of antibiotics,
wound-care supplies and surgical
instruments donated by El Centro
Regional Medical Center and the Lay
Brothers of the Poor. Another 20 boxes,
collected by Luz Bayot of Hawaii Gospel
Rescue Mission, were shipped from
Honolulu to Santo Domingo.
I had flown into Santo Domingo
because the U.S. Air Force had closed
Toussaint L'Ouverture International
Airport to regular commercial traffic. Its
control tower had collapsed, compromising
When airline personnel saw the labels
my son John Paul had taped to the
boxes—Haiti Medical Mission—their
faces lit up. They wished me safe travels
and waived the excess baggage fees.
At St. François Hospital in Haiti,
Archbishop Auza introduced me to Dr.
Jean Marie Caidor, the medical director,
and Dr. Hans Thomas, the assistant
director, and showed me 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 Filipino-American
I worked with Drs. Pierre and Andre
and the surgical staff of St. François, Belgian
professor Dr. Luc Beaucourt and his
team from the University of Antwerp,
Professor Otto and his German contingent,
and military paramedics from
Poland. The oldest and most damaged
hospital in Haiti needed all hands on
When I arrived, one million homeless
people were camping in tents throughout
Port-au-Prince or wandering the
streets, starving and desperate. Over
4,000 prisoners had escaped.
Archbishop Auza called the situation
"overwhelming" and brought me
to the Missionaries of Charity where
other volunteer physicians, including
Dr. Robert Walley of Mater Care International,
had congregated. After resurveying
for medical needs, he concluded
that St. François de Sales Hospital
needed the most help.
Dennis Sadowski of Catholic News
Service, touring the hospital with CNS
photographer Bob Roller, put it succinctly:
"In what remains of St. Francis
de Sales Hospital, the doctors work
under a pall of death."
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New
York, chairman of the board of Catholic
Relief Services, soon arrived with the
Rev. Msgr. David J. Malloy, general secretary
of the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops. Together with
Archbishop Auza, Bishop Thomas
Wenski (then in Orlando and now archbishop
of Miami), representing the
USCCB Secretariat for Latin America,
and many local ordinaries and priests
concelebrated a poignant Mass for the
repose of the souls of all the victims of
Among these was the beloved and
humble 63-year-old Port-au-Prince Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot and Vicar
General Msgr. Charles Benoit. The archbishop
had died from head trauma suffered
in a fall off the balcony of the
In the cathedral loft, rehearsing choir
members were trapped and perished.
Several priests and seminarians perished
in adjoining buildings, as did
nuns and parishioners attending services
at Perpetual Succour Church.
The funeral Mass was celebrated
across from the ruined Cathedral of
Our Lady of the Assumption.
Among those who perished was a
well-known pediatrician from Brazil,
who had devoted her life to working for
the poor and the elderly. Dr. Zilda Arns
Neumann was the founder and national
coordinator of two social-action
branches of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference,
which significantly reduced
the national infant mortality of Brazil.
She and her organizations have served
as a model for other impoverished
countries in Asia, Africa and Latin
America, and were nominated for the
2002 Nobel Peace Prize. The 75-year-old
pro-life pediatrician was a sister of
retired Cardinal Dom Paulo Evaristo
Arns, known for his resistance against
the military dictatorship in Brazil.
It was a liturgy filled with meaning
and symbolism. The archdiocesan
cathedral had been one of the two most
prominent architectural and historical
landmarks of Port-au-Prince. The other
was the Presidential Palace, also
destroyed by the quake.
President René Préval and First Lady
Elisabeth Delatour Préval joined Church
dignitaries, priests, religious and laity in
mourning the dead and in praying for
healing and national solidarity. It was
the first formal gathering in the earthquake's
aftermath, an occasion to pause
from relief efforts, console one another
and somehow make sense of the enormity
of human suffering and loss.
"It was symbolic to have it in the
courtyard of the damaged cathedral,"
Ken Hackett, executive director of
Catholic Relief Services, remarked.
"That helped in the grieving process.
That's what faith can bring to you;
when people are traumatized and grieving
they can turn to their faith."
I was particularly struck by the
somber, resonant and deeply moving
music played by the Haitian police
brass band before the start of Mass.
I see St. François de Sales Hospital as a
microcosm of Haitian tragedy and
hope. The oldest hospital in Haiti had
not been perfect, but it was functional.
The earthquake destroyed its pediatric
and ob/gyn wards, burying approximately
75 patients, family and staff.
Before the last tremor stopped, hospital
personnel ran through falling
debris to rescue trapped survivors and
retrieve x-ray and ultrasound machines.
Tents on the hospital grounds soon sheltered trauma patients, and makeshift
wards expanded daily. Tents were
designated for male and female adults,
surgery and orthopedics, medicine and
pediatrics. Five operating rooms were
busy in the hospital.
Army personnel built durable tents
for the pharmacy and the laboratory. I
was pleasantly surprised to see computer
screens appear in the pharmacy.
The laboratory started processing chemistry
panels in addition to basic blood
tests. When I developed a reaction to
prophylactic antimalarial drugs, mine
was the first blood drawn for a liver
function panel, courtesy of the University
Haiti's apostolic nunciature has become
the nerve center of operations. A general fund
and specific funds such as those designated for
church reconstruction or particular projects
are in place.
Nunciature Apostolique en Haiti
Bank of America
Swift ID: BOFAUS3N
ABA n. 026009593
For Credit: SOGEBANK
Swift ID: SOGHHTPP
For Further Credit: NUNCIATURE
APOSTOLIQUE EN HAITI
Account No. with SOGEBANK:
Catholic Relief Services has very low administrative costs among charitable
organizations. Ninety-four percent of
donations go directly to their "efficient, effective
and accountable" projects.
The Congregation des Petites Soeurs
de Ste. Therese (Congpsst@yahoo.fr or
to rebuild its school and library as soon as
Hands Together feeds as many as
10,000 children and 1,000 senior citizens each
St. Joseph Buddies—Help Haiti organizes
medical/surgical missions. Donations
fund antibiotics, vaccines, surgical supplies and
Drs. Edgar & Lucie Gamboa 1745 S. Imperial Ave., Ste 104
El Centro, CA 92243
The Web sites for all these organizations can provide
more information on how to transfer funds.
Volunteers from all over descended
on St. François to offer their services.
The Poles made leg elevators. The U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers surveyed
standing structures for seismic stability.
Missionaries from an orphanage assisted
the nurses. Medical students served
as physician assistants. High school
kids from a Catholic school, run by
lay missionaries Patrick and Christine
Moynihan, acted as interpreters. My
Spanish had served me well in the
Dominican Republic, but in Port-au-Prince it was strictly French or Creole.
Relief work is often sporadic, laments
physician and Passionist Father Rick
Frechette, national director of Nos Petits
Freres et Soeurs and medical director of
St. Damien Hospital. Maintaining continuity
is a challenge. Providentially,
when the Belgians were about to leave
St. François, Scripps Health San Diego's
CEO Chris VanGorder and trauma surgeons
Dr. Brent Eastman, Dr. Steven
Shackford and Dr. Drew Petterson
arrived at the scene. As the Germans
were ready to head back home, the
Maryland Shock Trauma team, led by
Dr. Thomas Scalea, took over.
It was frustrating, nevertheless, that
critically paralyzed patients, such as
19-year-old Jean Marie Danielle and
27-year-old engineering student Loraus
Renaud, could not be transferred to a
tertiary spine center once the USS Comfort was filled and air transport to Miami
In March I undertook a second mission
to Haiti, this time accompanied by
my wife and by OR scrub technician
Noelia Castro. But eight weeks after
the quake, it was frustrating to see that
a 17-year-old vehicular accident patient
with head and chest injuries could not
be properly treated without a mechanical
ventilator. A team of specialized
trauma surgeons and nurses stood by
the patient's gurney, unable to provide
anything beyond basic care. The patient
was transferred to another center where
he was left to die.
Among the poorest countries in the
Western Hemisphere, Haiti needed help
long before the January 12 earthquake
rocked the nation. This I learned firsthand
from the nuncio and from local
bishops, priests, nuns and missionaries
who frequented the nunciature for
Before the disaster, unemployment
was a staggering 80 percent! Minimum
wage for the lucky ones who found
work was $1.75-$3 per day. Gasoline
cost $5 a gallon, or $100 to fill up the
SUV that took us back and forth from
the hospital to the nunciature.
The first few weeks following the
earthquake, when banks were shut
down, were extremely difficult. Half of
the economy is sustained by money
sent in from the so-called "Haitian Diaspora,"
gifts from families and friends
In the United States, physicians and
nurses hardly ever see patients with
tetanus. At St. François de Sales Hospital,
two had died days after the earthquake.
I helplessly saw the third, a
16-year-old boy, terminally ill with
spastic paralysis, lockjaw and labored
breathing, as a consequence of a minor
wound infected with tetanus. That
could have been averted by timely vaccination.
Only a third of the population,
however, have access to medical
care and half the children are not
An estimated 50 percent of school-age
children cannot or do not attend
school. More than 90 percent of education
is accomplished by nongovernmental
agencies such as the Catholic
Church, other faith-based organizations
and private individuals. Many of
those schools were destroyed.
During my second visit (February
28-March 10), the papal nuncio
brought us and representatives of
humanitarian organizations, including
Nancy Rivard of Airline Ambassadors
International, up the mountains to Carrefour,
where members of the Congregation
des Petites Soeurs de Sainte Thérèse
L'Enfant-Jesus work with peasants and
their families. The order was founded
in 1948 by a diocesan priest, the Rev.
Farnese Louis Charles.
Sister Bernadette Nicolas, the mother
superior, showed us the remnants of
the buildings where, prior to the catastrophe,
classes were held for 1,500 students,
ages three to 22, from preschool
to junior college. One hundred fifty
students and four nuns perished in the
Some have expressed cynicism about
helping Haiti, pointing to a history of
government corruption as justification
to let things be. Even those who are
involved in humanitarian work express disappointment that foreign aid barely
trickles down to those who need it
It is worth keeping in mind, however,
that Haiti witnessed the first successful
slave revolt in history. Freedom came at
a very steep price: 150 million francs in
gold (reduced in 1838 to 90 million
francs) demanded by French colonizers
in exchange for international recognition.
Haiti spent 80 percent of its
national budget towards debt repayment.
This huge debt, which kept Haiti
shackled in poverty, was not paid off
Remember, also, that many tireless
and dedicated individuals toil in Haiti
with very minimal administrative cost.
They need outside help and funding to
keep their projects running.
One such individual is Father Tom
Hagan, founder and president of Hands
Together. My wife and I met him at a
Mass for the Missionaries of Charity
during the visit of their superior general,
Sister Mary Prema.
I cannot say if I was more impressed
by the utter humility of Sister Mary,
who graciously offered me her hymnal
so I could participate in the liturgy,
or the down-to-earth wit and humor of
Father Tom. It is always a special day
when one gets to meet and break bread
with a living saint—but two saints in
While Sister Mary supervises Blessed
Mother Teresa's 600-plus houses of charity
in 136 countries around the world,
Father Tom oversees 15 schools and
various clinics and projects, which for
the most part are located in Cité Soleil,
one of the poorest slum areas of the
Due to the inherent danger, relief workers hardly penetrate the area,
which is unfortunate because 300,000
of Haiti's poorest reside there in subhuman
conditions. I could not have seen
patients there had Father Tom not
arranged it so that I was accompanied
by Hands Together staff and Dr. James
DellaValle, who has worked with Father
Tom. Dr. DellaValle is program director
of the Family Medicine Residency at
Guthrie Clinic in Pennsylvania.
Overall, however, I remain hopeful,
partly because I see the strength and
resilience of the Haitian people, especially
in the smiling face of Benia
Celestin. Her historic wristband says
"#1." She was the first trauma patient
admitted to St. François following the
January 12 earthquake.
Benia was watching TV when her
house collapsed, pinning her and fracturing
her pelvis. Her x-rays show a
severe "open book" type of fracture,
and her shattered pelvis is held together
by external fixators. She is able to move
her legs, but weakly. She has some pain,
she admits. But Benia is happy to be
alive, is grateful to the doctors and
nurses who care for her, and looks forward
to the day when she can walk
Compassionate and sustained involvement
is the key to rebuilding Haiti.
EXPRESSED IN THE URGENT APPEALS for a global
humanitarian response from Pope Benedict XVI to
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to President
Barack Obama, the earthquake struck a tragic chord
which reverberated throughout the world.
The United Nations deployed peacekeeping
forces to control anticipated rioting
immediately after the earthquake. The U.S.
military took over control of the government
The United Nations had already intensified
its presence in one of the poorest and
most fragile countries in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2004, the world organization
deployed 9,000 military personnel and
2,000 civilians to staff the U.N. Stabilization
Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The January
earthquake killed 125 U.N. staff members,
including the head and deputy head of
United Nations agencies, including the
World Food Programme, the Children's
Fund, World Health Organization and
Information and Communication Technology,
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 too numerous to list—aided disaster victims,
a third of Haiti's population.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta,
among others, highlighted the disaster on the world stage.
The media kept the world's attention focused on Haiti.
The United States government pledged $100 million in aid
and dispatched the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 73rd Infantry
from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the aircraft carrier
USS Carl Vinson. 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 U.S. medical
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas
Internationalis, along with Doctors
Without Borders or Medecins sans Frontieres,
and other NGOs, immediately swung into
action. Ken Hackett, executive director of
CRS, noted that, in decades of involvement
in relief projects, he had never seen
such destruction and death following an
earthquake. At St. François Hospital, CRS
worked around the clock in the aftermath
of the quake to get the heavily damaged
hospital functioning as best it could.
By February 1, CRS's Sean Callahan, executive
VP for overseas operations, and its
Haiti representative, Karel Zelenka, had
distributed two weeks' worth of packed
meals to 100,000 Haitians. A month after
the earthquake, Catholic Relief Services reported that it had
provided food for half a million people.
Through a special collection taken up in parishes in January,
Catholics in the United States donated $60 million.