More than 200,000 people perished in January 2010 in Haiti when the earth shook violently for a few seconds. Mountains of rubble still stand in the capital city of Port-Au-Prince, just as they did over a year and a half ago. The tent cities that shelter hundreds of thousands of the displaced were supposed to be temporary; their continuing existence makes it hard to imagine the time that has passed.
Dr. Jeffrey Meilman, Chairman of the Williamsville, New York, based Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, and a member of the Daemen College Board of Trustees, has traveled the world for more than 20 years, providing much-needed free medical and surgical care to residents of Third World countries. His work has changed the lives of many children who would have had to go through life disfigured. But the devastation that has resulted for the segment of the Haitian population that was hit by the earthquake is particularly significant to him.
“The new government is struggling to get on its feet. International aid and investment has not come as quickly as needed or as promised. Having done this in a lot of countries for the last 20, 22 years, I can tell you this is one of the most needy places,” he stated.
In late May, Dr. Meilman, together with seven other Western New York doctors and five students – four from Daemen – traveled to Les Cayes, an impoverished town in the southwest portion of Haiti, to assist a segment of that country’s population that has not seen a single surgeon for seven years, according to Dr. Meilman.
Among the Daemen students was Erika Funnell, who is pursuing Doctorate in Physical Therapy at Daemen.
“I have always wanted to help people – that’s part of what makes me want to practice physical therapy. But even though I have done a good amount of service learning, in places like soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity, it was shocking to see all of the destruction that remains from the earthquake. The earthquake was more than a year ago, but the lives of the people here are still devastated.”
The members of the group worked through intense disorganization at the hospital, and managed to treat more than 100 individual patients who came in with conditions ranging from the readily treatable, such as hernias, glaucoma, and sprains, to others which required general surgery.
One goal of the participating doctors was to teach the resident Haitian doctors the skills to continue the kinds of surgeries the group members were performing.
“By teaching these techniques to local, Haitian doctors, we ensure that they will be able to treat some of those who will need surgery there in the future,” noted Dr. Hratch Karamanoukian, founder and director of Vein Treatment Centers in Western New York. “And we were able to do that. I left all of my equipment and supplies with a physician there, who was able to perform vein procedures successfully by the time we left.
“Another big goal of the trip was to see if a program could be established to do these things safely and successfully, to allow Daemen health care students to participate on a trip such as this on a regular basis. And we proved that it could. Future trips will greatly benefit Daemen students as well as the population of Les Cayes.”
“The general lack of education is a big problem in this part of Haiti,” noted Jessica Panepento, who is in the 1-2-1 Nursing Program at Daemen. “Because people really didn’t know how to take care of themselves health-wise, simple things, like cuts and scrapes could very easily become infected, and life-threatening, in the conditions they were living in.
“For me, it was an experience that enabled me to see things I’d never see in the U.S., and it was so moving, the daily struggles of the residents there. It makes me want to keep going back again.”