​October, 2017, Campeche, Haiti

I’m writing this blog post simply as a reflection of the incredibly meaningful and impactful experience I have had with the THMT on my second mission trip with them so far as an Emergency Medicine physician. 

I’ll never forget how our last trip started: we arrived into Port-au-Price, and upon exiting the airport and walking into the scorching heat, realized our truck – that would be taking us to the village – had a flat. No fancy tools in Haiti: a rush metal rod, some make-shift propping mechanism for the vehicle, and POOF the tire was changed. Looking at our team members – basking in the heat while we waited – I was beyond humbled how no one was phased by this hiccup in our travels. I’m accustomed to the travel adage “everything you think can go wrong likely will;” but to see that internalized and shrugged off by the other members made me realize what a unique group THMT attracts.  

Just like last year, this year we had a diverse group of individuals: physician assistants from where I am on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, nurse practitioners from New Orleans to New York City, administrative members from the organization itself whom I worked with last year, and an array of on-the-ground Haitian staff including medical students, physicians, and dental students. Every year I return I’m simply taken back how such a diverse team – both in profession and ages – can come together in a remote section of Haiti and, hardly knowing each other immediately take the reins and work in such harmony. Every member of our team brought  a unique skill-set to the mission, and together we made our mission trip as truly productive as possible. 

Several other things – aside from instant cohesion that always transpires with the groups I lead – also stand out. During our stay at the clinic, we saw hundreds of patients, treating conditions ranging from complicated ear lacerations, to hypertensive urgency, to hyperglycemia in a diabetics. We successfully treated countless children with upper respiratory infections that benefited from nebulizers and possible antibiotics, and were able to provide appropriate referrals to patients that needed a higher level of care. With such scant resources, the pharmacy we have stocked – loaded with some of the most essential medicines needed for us to be successful – continues to be one of the strongest assets provided by THMT. 

Beyond this, the fact that we have so many eager translators work for us, who are known and respected within the community, adds more relevance and creates more impact to THMT’s continued presence within the community. I have generally found in my global health mission work this barrier – cross-cultural understanding and trust, particularly in an area where westernized medicine can be viewed in a skeptical light against traditional Voodoo beliefs – can be one the most arduous to overcome. However, our translators, coupled with guidance and support of the pastors, made our clinic weeks generally run smoothly and effortlessly.

Global health work is a tough business: leaving your home, immersing oneself in an entirely new country and culture, and working long and hard hours in a setting that drastically differs from what we have available in the US makes me have the utmost respect for the team members that join me. Every time I reflect on Haiti – from the friendships I have locals around the community, to the incredible practitioners I have been fortunate enough to work alongside and learn from – I swell with pride at what we have accomplished, and look forward to our continued work and presence within the community.

Ripal “Rip” Patel, MD, MPH

March Trip Report 

Many thanks to the March 2017 team who recently returned from a successful and very busy clinical week in Campeche.  You guys were rock stars.   In 5 days we saw approximately 750 patients ranging from 2 days old to 88 years old.  It is so amazing to see 14 volunteers from all over the US with a wide range of clinical skills and backgrounds come together as a team and work with untiring enthusiasm in what is sometimes a very challenging environment. And we had fun!!!!!  It is a life changing week for many and we return with full yet heavy hearts knowing we touched many lives but also knowing the magnitude of work yet to be done in the region we serve not to mention the entire country of Haiti.
The team consisted of two PAs Collin and Kaitlin who rocked the day treating patients, teaching, answering multiple questions, calculating medication dosages.  We had 3 RNs, several skilled EMTs and first responders, and pre-med students. We were also pleased to have a group of 6 student volunteers from Florida State University.  There were 5-6 exam rooms working throughout the day. The pharmacy was insanely busy and although chaotic and crazy at times, things ran efficiently, patients got their medications with thorough instruction in Creole and prescription cards to present for refills on chronic meds. We gave out 1000s and 1000s of childrens prenatal and multivitamins and gave deworming pills and fluoride treatments to 100s.  Andy you were awesome!!! We had the honor and pleasure to have Dr Silveste a local MD from Croix De Bouquet join us all week.  He was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, kind and best of all has agreed to return to work in the clinic at least one day a week to provide the opportunity for ongoing healthcare, follow-up visits and medication refills to our patients!  We hope to have Dr Silveste on our future teams. Sustaining the health care of our patients between teams is the ultimate goal of THMT and by obtaining commitments from local health care professionals the clinic can stay open more frequently.  We also had a local team performing HIV testing throughout the week.
Patients presented with a variety of aliments from severe staph infections, to bugs in ears, sniffles and tummy aches, also the very severe hypertension and Diabetes so prevalent in the community.  For many patients this is their only opportunity for health care and our clinicians take advantage of the opportunity to teach about the disease process, diet, and prevention. Several team members also had the opportunity to go into the homes of patients who were unable to come into the clinic and provide treatment, supplies and instruction to the families on how to care for their loved ones.
Thank you to our hosts at Bethel Foundation, Pastor Nathan, Tutu, Madam Claude our translators and the wonder staff at the guest house.  The staff at THMT also thanks our volunteers, we know what a sacrifice it is to leave your homes, school, families and take your “vacation or spring break” working 8-10 hour days to serve the people of Haiti. You are all welcome back anytime.

​Thank you

Gail Braun R.N 
Trip Coordinator
THMT

Haiti Testimonial

PictureMy daughter Laura and I in the Haitian Mountains

     ​Earlier this year, back in the spring, I became treasurer of the Tallahassee Haiti Medical Team, Inc. I’d like to say I have a history of volunteer work and noble motives. The truth is my daughter, Laura, asked me to be the organization’s treasurer. This coincided with a desire for more satisfying human engagement. Though it’s been rewarding and I’ll likely continue it in some fashion, my work in IT project management and business analysis hasn’t fed my soul lately. Sometimes your kids know you better than you’d like.
After joining the organization and participating in the monthly status meetings, other members of the executive committee routinely asked me when I was going to make a trip to Haiti. International travel was new for me; my last trip abroad was about 27 years ago to Switzerland. And, my familiarity with health care is purely as a consumer, or observer, of it. Eventually, the end of a few projects coalesced to allow me the personal and mental latitude to volunteer and go.
To say my experience in Haiti has been a life-changing one does not do the experience justice. Working that closely with a small team, serving the real needs of those in the small village and in the surrounding area, getting to know the parents, the kids, the pastors, the interpreters and all others who were so very generous enough and willing to share part of themselves has no comparable in any experience I’ve had, work related or otherwise. 
It’s often said of different experiences – with school, with relationships with others, with work – that “you get out of it what you put into it.” Here, based on my experience, it’s a little different. With Haiti, you get out of it what you are willing to open yourself up to.
The trip to Haiti changed me. Priorities got reordered and rearranged; not simply realigned. The challenge for me now is identifying work stateside that gives me something close to the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment I derived in doing something good like I did in Haiti.
I will find that work and do that work until my next trip to Haiti, which will be soon.

​- Andrew Flewelling 


October

With a team of only 7 volunteers and complications from Hurricane Matthew, our October medical team was still able to treat 350 patients in our clinic. Perseverance at its finest!

My Experience 

Hi My Name is Debbie Walhof and I am a Pediatrician. I had the privilege of traveling to Haiti as part of the Tallahassee Medical team in Oct 2015. I have been a Pediatrician for 25 years. Although I work at Kaiser presently, I worked most of my life as Pediatric Director of a non profit Community clinic. I am used to working with mission driven collegues.  I am used to working with low income families.  Haiti is a situation that is indescribable.  And frankly should not exist at all in this day and age. The poverty. The lack of infrastructure. The complete lack of basic  life necessities. The spirit of the people still prevails and that is where we can make a difference.

It was heartwarming to be part of a group that really functions like a family. The commitment and dedication and pure love, respect and admiration that is mutual between the members of this organization and the local population is unique and inspiring. Gail Braun the team leader and head RN sets the tone and  she is truly an incredible healer and human being. Lisa Dragna another veteran of the team leads by her strong sunny disposition and fierce dedication.  The local pastor welcomes us and feeds and shelters and protects us as family.

As a Pediatrician I was at first worried about seeing adult patients. But we were well prepared. I brought my teenage son on our trip to volunteer as well. It was life changing. He had been learning about  Dr. Paul Farmer and his work in Haiti in his school in the US in the preceding months. Nothing could prepare him though for how he was touched by the people and their plight.

There are things we do in life that ripple , and that ripple touches us as much as others. Going to Haiti is that kind of experience. You will come back and realize that you now have another family.  A family that you cannot stop caring for, and will want others to meet.

I hope you give yourself the gift of Haiti. 

​- Debbie Walhof M.D

October Team Report 

PictureThe Team

Congratulations to the October team for a successful week of treating patients, teaching, reaching out beyond your comfort zones, working until you dropped, climbing the mountain to reach patients who have never had access to health care, giving 150% of your skills and your hearts. We return with heavy hearts, knowing the unfinished work that we have left behind, but full of love and humility for the beautiful people of Haiti who teach us so much about love, family, faith, courage and strength.
Our team consisted of 18 awesome members, the majority from California. Two amazing pediatricians Dr Deb and Dr Adrianne from Kaiser Santa Rosa, Dr Murray our OB/GYN extraordinaire, and a team of skillful med students, RNs and dedicated and enthusiastic non medical members from all backgrounds. And of course thank you also to Dr Amanda for your help and support. Because of the size of our team we were able to take 2 teams lead by Dr Amanda up into the remote villages in the mountains above Campeche. They brought Worm pills, vitamins, hydration and emergency medical supplies and touched the lives and hearts of many people who otherwise have no access to health care of any sort. These “mobile teams” will hopefully become a regular part of our missions. We had an excellent variety of meds to work with in the pharmacy thanks to the joint efforts of team members, Dr Amanda and a large order THMT was able to get through our affiliates MAP and Americares. Both of these agencies provide medicine to teams throughout the world either for free or for pennies on the dollar. They are an amazing resource and do incredible work.
Our main goal is to provide the best and most thorough primary care possible but also to take this opportunity to teach each patient as much as we can about their health issues, their prenatal care, children’s care and prevention. We had several classes throughout the week including Women’s health, prenatal , breast feeding and newborn care, how and why to take a temperature, and Matt and Jack rocked the English classes (after working a full hectic day in the pharmacy)! Our dear returning veteran Lisa, engaged over a hundred village women young and old with her sanitary pad sewing project and classes. Way to go girl!!! I think she would be voted most popular in the village!!! One of the unique opportunities our teams have in Campeche is the ability to live among the villagers, we walk down their streets, visit their homes, play with their children, hold their babies!!!! (Some of us have problems giving them back right Deb??) They are not just our patients they become our friends and they always welcome us with warm smiles and open arms and we learn so much from their wealth of courage, faith and love in the midst of what we consider severe debilitating poverty. Several of us attended a funeral for Madam Gilande who had worked in our pharmacy and passed recently at a young age. It was an unforgettable, beautiful, yet heart wrenching event. The Haitians spend their last dimes to ensure the proper burial and services of their loved ones. The music and service were beautiful, the wailing and crying was heart breaking. The entire community including all the children were there to show love and support to the family, standing room only inside and outside the church.May she rest in peace………..
Each team has several unforgettable events and situations, whether it’s a trauma patient whose life we were able to save, the touching of a young girls heart with the knowledge to respect her body, or the birth of a baby, multiple challenges walk in the door every morning. On day 1 Dr Deb saw a baby who was in resp failure, high fever and listless, unable to send this baby to the ICN, we watched her instincts kick in, she used what she had on hand and her expertise and we were able to find many of the tools she required to save this baby’s life. It is extremely difficult to have to send the baby home not knowing if she would make it through the night. The next afternoon she returned and daily after that and by the end of the week she was a bouncing giggling baby girl!!! Her Mama had tried to take her to the hospital, they gave her minimal meds and sent her away because she couldn’t pay. Our clinic was able to provide better care to this baby than she could receive outside. Mama engaged the church congregation on Sunday with a touching testimony of how she was turned away from the hospital and this Dr reached out with her heart and soul and took it upon herself to save her baby’s life.  
Thank you to our hosts at the Bethel Foundation, To Pastor Nathan and his staff for keeping us secure and safe and overseeing it all from the sidelines. Thank you to Madam Claude and her talented and beautiful kitchen staff for keeping our tummies happy and full . Thank you to our translators for allowing us to do our work so efficiently. Thank you to Madam Venart for your work in the lab, Claude for running the clinic, and of course Sir TUTU, we cannot thank him enough for anticipating our every need.
We know the sacrifice each and every one of you makes to leave your homes, families, jobs etc and spend your own time and money to help the people of Campeche and we at THMT thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You are all welcome back any time!
Best and God Bless
Gail Braun R.N