Chico doc reflects on Haitian relief trip
Dr. Hugo A. Leon joins the effort to help earthquake-ravaged Haiti
On a typical day at Mangrove Medical Group, Dr. Hugo A. Leon sees approximately 35 patients with ailments ranging from coughs and sniffles to back spasms and rashes. In the chaos and rubble of post-earthquake Haiti, he saw more than 100 victims each day, some suffering from serious injuries, others from severe dehydration.
“I’m not surprised that 200,000 people died,” he said during an interview this week. “It looks like 200,000 people died when you see all of those collapsed buildings.”
Prior to his current family practice, Leon worked on Guam for six years, and he has volunteered his services in various other third-world countries. But nothing would prepare the Chico doctor for working in the disaster-relief environment he found in Haiti last month.
He teamed up with Aryan Consulting and Technical Services (ACTS), an Indian medical-supplies company, and Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) to bring health care to Haiti. The humanitarians arrived 20 days after the 7.3-magnitude earthquake ripped through the country.
Medical conditions in the capital of Port au Prince were disastrous. The day they arrived (Feb. 1), they found Diquini Hospital had shut down due to lack of medical supplies. Leon and company immediately began restocking the pharmacy with 1,500 pounds of medical aid they’d brought with them, thanks to generous donations. The humble third-world community hospital was quickly revamped into a level-one trauma center.
Because the hospital was overwhelmed by patients (often numbering more than 1,000 by 8 a.m.), the group of professionals commandeered a house across the street and established an outpatient clinic. The injured and sick, desperately in need of aid, were living in tents around both facilities.
“We prioritized,” said Leon. “The severely ill were treated first, and then women and children. Half a million people were living on the streets, and many got sick from exposure.” Despite conditions, the medicos didn’t have any problems with the people, “who we found to be anxious but very grateful. In general, they were orderly and respectful.”
After establishing a relief hub, the group aimed to reach those people in need of care who didn’t have means of transportation. Leon and team boarded five “mobile medical clinics,” or buses, to some of the poorest rubble-shrouded neighborhoods in Haiti. Leon worked in concert with dentists, emergency medical technicians, surgeons, psychiatrists and nurses to provide relief for people who had not received medical attention in more than a decade. The volunteers worked tirelessly to treat fractured bones, dehydration, parasitic and respiratory infections, and people sick from exposure.
“The mobile clinics were an absolute necessity,” he recalled, noting how the vehicles allowed the team to reach earthquake victims who sustained serious injuries and were unable to move.
The team of specialists used the buses and trucks to transport seriously hurt or ill patients back to the medical facility, which had been without running water since the earthquake. A group of doctors worked alongside local children to lay 3,000 feet of piping in order to receive water from a nearby artesian well. The effort allowed surgeons to properly sanitize themselves (as opposed to scrubbing hands in buckets of water prior to surgery).
Leon recalled working with one particularly heroic woman. The mother, who sustained fractured ribs and a damaged scapula, was able to save her 2-month-old child by stretching her body over her baby’s crib as a heavy brick wall slammed atop her back.
Others were not as fortunate. Leon remembers a young man with a stomach infection who, as a result of the earthquake, lost 10 family members and, subsequently, his will to live.
He wasn’t the only one who had lost hope. Leon helped hydrate a malnourished baby whose mother was severely depressed and in a state of shock. Her 6-week-old baby had not been fed in three days and weighed only five pounds. “Another case where somebody had simply given up,” he said.
Despite witnessing such devastation, Leon did not hesitate when asked if he would consider doing it again. “Absolutely,” he said. “It was rewarding to donate my time and services to those truly in need. It’s a blessing, and I give thanks to God for being given the opportunity to serve the people of Haiti.”
He also had a message for the local community: “Remember the people of Haiti in our prayers and if able to help them with donations, I would encourage people to do that. They really need the help after this disaster of apocalyptic proportions.”