Who cares? The Global Pandemic Shutdown Impacts Disadvantaged & Desperate in Haiti

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Global Consequences of Corona Virus.

Global travel restrictions prohibit American travel to Haiti causing dire health care consequences amongst those most in need. Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Leonard D’Addesi, M.D., is one of dozens of American surgeons who previously volunteered with Mission of Hope, a nonprofit group organizing volunteers for medical mission trips, active in Haiti prior to the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown.

Dr. D’Addesi reflected on the conditions he experienced in prior week-long volunteer surgical trips to Haiti. “To say that Haiti is a Third World country is an understatement. Haiti is very poor, low in resources, with poor access to healthcare, poor sanitation, and an average age of death of about 55 years old. There are many patients for which I cared and examined that had very simple needs, but because of poor access to healthcare, had no treatment options.”

Limited access to healthcare in Haiti includes reasons such as low income or no money to pay for medical costs, limited availability of hospitals and healthcare personnel or inability to travel to those hospitals either because they were too far away, or too sick to travel. These are patients for whom telemedicine is definitely not an option.

Dr. D’Addesi described the medical facilities as being makeshift, often involving abandoned buildings or tents, with pseudo sterile conditions. All of their equipment, tools, and drapes were brought in from the US which often required paying a bribe within the corrupt local government to get the equipment into the country.

Dr. D’Addesi is an orthopedic surgeon who practices primarily surgery on extremities. Many of the cases he treated were benign tumors including ganglions, fatty tumors, and large pedunculated masses. These were unsightly, uncomfortable, and caused the patients to be looked down upon by society.

Sometimes people had injuries that were beyond the scope of what he could perform on these trips because they needed very invasive surgery.

“One patient fractured his tibia, which is the bone between the knee and the ankle, in a motorcycle accident one year earlier. He had what is called an open or a compound fracture where the skin was split open. The bone and wound were infected for the last year and pus was pouring out of the wound. He wasn’t able to walk because his leg was unstable and the hospital wanted too much money for him to have it repaired.”

Another patient had injured his leg and developed an equinus contracture where the ankle is flexed down, and the toes are pointing down making it difficult to walk. He could not lift his foot or ankle up to walk normally because of the contracture. Dr. D’Adessi performed an Achilles lengthening and straighten his foot out so that he could walk normally.

“These procedures change these people’s lives and how they are viewed in society, which is a miraculous thing for them,” said Leonard D’Addesi, M.D. He believes that many people in the US, including patients and surgeons, often take access to medical care for granted.

Of all of the medical mission trips he made to Haiti, the most memorable patient for Dr. D’Adessi, however, was a 13-year-old girl. She was brought to him by an organization who rescues children from a slave ring. The slave children are called Restaveks. Although he had never heard of the Restaveks, he quickly learned from the locals that the Restaveks are among an estimated 300,000 Haitian children, sent by their parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because their own parents lack the resources required to support the child. The expectation is that the children will be given food and housing in exchange for doing housework. However, many Restaveks live in poverty, may not receive proper education, and are at grave risk for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

“The child in question was physically abused. She arrived with an open wound on her left shoulder and the bone protruding from the wound. It was acquired when she had been beaten severely a month earlier and they had broken her left humerus bone at the level of the shoulder. She sustained a compound or open fracture and it was obviously infected. Her shoulder was stiff and her arm was not very functional. This is a significant and grave problem and likely will cause a growth arrest of the humerus bone, making her left arm shorter than the right. The most important action of the time was to get the infection under control and to close the wound which I was able to perform for her. She was a beautiful little girl and it broke my heart to see this happen to her.

One unfortunate problem with these medical mission trips is the lack of good patient follow-up. This young child came from a very, small village far away and so I do not know whatever happened to her. I have often thought of her and prayed for her.” The negative impact of the pandemic shutdown worldwide may never be truly known.

Many physicians and medical personnel have been prohibited from participating in medical mission trips and continue to pray for those overlooked. Who cares? Many Americans care and long for the chance to return to Haiti to volunteer. In the words of Dr. Leonard D’Adessi, “If we don’t fix them, nobody is going to. The way I looked at it was that I was there. I was willing and able. I was going to do as much as I could with my God-given abilities.”

“When you see people in need,” he said, “your reaction should be to give and to do what you can to help.” And may others feel encouraged to do the same.

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Karl Donaldson
Karl Donaldson
Karl Donaldson is an editor and writer for NRN. Partial to his two cats, he lives in New Hampshire with his wife and a veritable menagerie of his wife's creatures.