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April 30, 2010 > Washington Hospital Nurse Volunteers in Haiti

Washington Hospital Nurse Volunteers in Haiti

As people in Haiti were ending their workday and heading home on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, life as they knew it would change forever. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island just 16 miles west of the capital city Port-au-Prince. Within hours the news of the devastation was broadcast worldwide.

San Francisco-born and raised Rawnie Clements is no stranger to earthquakes, but she paused in shock as the reports continued. A long-time Washington Hospital registered nurse trained in wound healing, Clements felt a strong pull to aid the suffering people, many of whom had buildings and other debris fall on them during the initial quake or one of the more than 50 aftershocks. She saw the wrenching news stories on television about tens of thousands of people that suffered serious injuries and knew that she had to do something to help.

"I belong to the American Professional Wound Care Association and a call went out for wound care providers to work at a field hospital in Port-au-Prince," Clements recalls. "By the end of January, I had made up my mind to volunteer."

After Clements registered with the Department of Homeland Security and the Miami MediShare organization, she received a typhoid vaccination and a prescription for Malarone, an anti-malarial drug. Clements then arranged for her own flight from San Francisco to Miami and was met at the airport by officials from MediShare who arranged for her flight into Port-au-Prince on a chartered plane that she shared with other health-care professionals.

"My accommodation was a cot in a large circus-like tent and a truck brought water every day and so that we could fill our water bottles," Clements says. "We could take a two-minute shower daily. I washed my scrubs at the same time as I was in the shower."

Clements worked 15-hour shifts dressing wounds every day. She treated mostly adults, but also had a few pediatric cases. Her life-long interest and training in wounds and how they heal had barely prepared her emotionally for what she dealt with in Haiti. Some of the worst disappointments were dressing wounds on legs that later had to be amputated.

"There was a policeman who had been hit by a car and left in the street," Clements says. "He was so grateful to be at our hospital where he received excellent care."
Another memorable person was a 65-year-old woman (the average life span in Haiti is 58 years) with an ulcer the size of a saucer on her lower back from being buried in concrete rubble after the quake.

"We had to make room for younger patients we thought we could save, so the woman was discharged to her niece's house since her own home had been destroyed in the quake. Her son told me that the niece's roof 'was broken' and that the rain would get the old woman wet."

Clements searched and found a tarp for them to place on the roof and the family became tearful and thankful.

"The old woman probably would have died unless her family went "above and beyond" to keep her wound from getting infected," Clements says. "We cried together as I explained how to keep the wound clean and told them that although she could not stay in the hospital, she could come back to our outpatient clinic and receive care. I never saw her again."

Clements says one of the of the hardest things for her to see while she was in Haiti was to watch her patients get released who were thirsty and hungry and had no home to go to.

"I want to stress that I saw in the Haitians a people that are spiritually rich, but materially poor," she says. "They had no homes but most of the patients I cared for had a bible at their bedside."

Clements says it was very difficult to leave but she's planning to return to Haiti on May 3.

"Many people in Haiti are still desperate for help," Clements emphasizes. "Medications, children's vitamins and tents are still in short supply. I would like to emphasize that anyone can donate, volunteer or start a service project to help the Haitians."


Learn More About the Relief Efforts in Haiti

While in Haiti, Clements worked with several relief agencies and organizations that are working to help the country recover.

"A group known as DIRT (Disaster Immediate Response Team) transports patients to the field hospital and is helping with orphanages and other projects in Haiti," says Clements. "DIRT is a noble effort to which anyone can donate and they be contacted at www.globaldirt.org."

Clements has also singled out The University of Miami's Project MediShare which operates a hospital in Haiti, www.ProjectMediShare.org and The Rotary Club sponsored "ShelterBox," a tent for a family, www.shelterbox.org. Clements says that while she was in Haiti last month, more than 85,000 ShelterBoxes had been distributed to homeless families.


How Washington Hospital is Helping

To help with the medical relief effort in Haiti, Washington Hospital has teamed up with MedShare, a local nonprofit organization that collects and distributes surplus medical supplies and equipment. Washington Hospital has sent two shipments of supplies including bandages, IV start kits, surgical scrubs, blankets, crutches and more than 40 other medical items that are needed most in Haiti right now. If you would like to learn more about MedShare, please visit www.medshare.org

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