Corey Burke is a 3rd year medical student from Loma Linda University with an interest in pursuing a career as an orthopedic surgeon. He recently returned from spending 2wks volunteering at Hopital Adventiste d’Haiti.
When I think about HAH, I see a young girl waiting in the pre-op room smiling at me. She can’t contain her enthusiasm over the hope she has been given by the hospital staff. She has never even met her surgeon before this week, yet she has complete trust in his ability to make her whole again. There were so many children like this. Although their lives are far from easy, their joyful and lighthearted spirits can’t help but inspire those around them.
With this being my first time on a medical mission trip in Haiti, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I remember the excitement and apprehension I felt as I stepped off the plane onto Haitian soil a little over three weeks ago. Little did I realize then the immense impact that this trip was about to have on my vision for my life as a medical doctor.
I can’t even put into words the immeasurable amount of poverty I saw on a daily basis. Although I knew that Haiti was an impoverished nation, I didn’t anticipate being so affected by this reality. Large piles of garbage lay wherever I turned my head. The amount of pollution was shocking. There was evidence of poverty all around us.
Each day as we walked to the market, we would pass a man with only one leg who was crutching around the streets. Each day I wondered what his story was. How did he lose his leg? When did it happen? Could this ailment have been prevented if he received the proper care at the proper time? I found myself asking these questions time and time again. I still can’t wrap my mind around a boy we saw at another local hospital who had been inadequately treated for a tibia fracture and had been lying in a hospital bed for eleven months. Although no one at the hospital has said it yet, he will most likely need an amputation and not have the opportunity to grow up experiencing the vibrancy of young adulthood with both legs. Countless other patients lie in their hospital beds waiting to be treated, having no idea when or if they will be able to have the surgery they need. I found myself feeling incredibly thankful for the work of HAH. The country of Haiti is truly blessed to have HAH selflessly serving those in need. The work they have done and continue to complete is tremendous. But the need in this country remains remarkably great.
My Experience at HAH
I had the honor of working with a team that came from all different backgrounds, yet were unified as one for the common good of the people of Haiti. How neat it was to experience the genuine camaraderie of a group of profoundly talented individuals. Our surgical tech and head nurse, Elaine, did an extraordinary job of keeping everything moving quickly and in an orderly fashion. Her constant encouragement, phenomenal work ethic, and heart for service all stem from her love for Christ. Maria (anesthesiologist) and Lucia (nurse) traveled from the Dominican Republic to join us. Maria displayed her expertise and confidence with each case. Lucia worked tirelessly to care for our patients. The way they both worked with our patients made it evident how much they cared about them and wanted what was best for them. On the last night of our time together, our group went to the roof of the hospital and Lucia led us in prayer, lifting up the patients of HAH. She also shared about how she has a special place in her heart for the people of Haiti and how she prays for them daily.
What a humbling and valuable opportunity it was for me to work under such an exceptional team of orthopaedists: Dr. Nelson, Dr. Anderson, Dr. Mildren, & Dr. Alexis. Seeing the way they responded to the different cases and how they thoughtfully worked through each one is something I will take with me throughout my career and training no matter where I go.
There was one case in particular that I’ll remember for years to come. A young girl had been burned on the back of her leg by a motorcycle exhaust pipe a year ago and hadn’t been able to walk due to contracture of her leg. We performed an excision of the scar and casted her leg in extension. This was not a complicated surgery, yet this child had to endure a year of pain and difficulty not knowing if she would ever be able to walk again. How incredibly rewarding it is to know that a simple procedure will have lasting effects on her life.
Another case etched into my memory involved a teenage boy with tibia osteomyelitis. His infection had been worsening over the past year to the point where the old, dead bone was sticking out through his skin and new bone was growing in behind it. We were able to remove the dead bone and put in antibiotic beads so that it could begin to grow properly. This procedure was unlike any I’ve had the opportunity to assist with before.
Not only did I amass valuable knowledge of orthopaedics from the doctors I worked under, but I also learned about the importance of servant leadership. In order to keep matters running efficiently, our team spent time each day performing tasks around the hospital. This often meant preparing for surgeries, but also included a lot of organizing, cleaning, and even painting. Our team was up late into the night on one occasion finishing painting and preparing the new preop room. The following morning, a hospital worker approached me about how he could not believe that he saw Dr. Nelson, a respected surgeon, take the time to paint one of the rooms in the hospital. He said that it made him think, “If Dr. Nelson is willing to paint a room for the hospital, why can’t I? What else can I be doing to help?” This is merely one example of the many instances in which the team of orthopaedists took the time to serve in whatever capacity was needed in the hospital. It was truly a blessing to partner in their work for two weeks.
I have been to Africa, Central America, and South America on mission trips, but never did I realize the massive need in this small country of Haiti, a place in America’s backyard. The doctors, nurses, technicians, and patients I worked with at HAH have inspired me as I step into the remaining year of my medical school training and as I continue on into residency. My mind will never cease to remember the images of those men, women, and children at local hospitals lying in beds for weeks at a time waiting for treatment. This has served as a reminder of why I chose to enter the field of medicine and has given me a picture of what I am working towards. As I stepped on the plane to come home, I left with a renewed sense of purpose, motivation, and hope that I will have the opportunity to return to Haiti someday soon.