UNC Health Care in Haiti

Three UNC Health Care nurses traveled to Haiti to provide care to those in need.

by Zach Read - zread@unch.unc.edu

More than three years have passed since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake—and its aftershocks—devastated Haiti, one of the world’s poorest nations. Although media attention of the crisis has faded, the rebuilding continues.

For many Haitians, one area of need remains medical care, and providing care was recently the week-long focus of UNC Health Care nurses Turkeisha Brown, BSN, RN-BC, Ashley Crews-Lloyd, RN, CNIII, and Katrice Hester, RN, CNII.

In late March, the trio of pulmonary and infectious disease nurses went on a medical mission to the community of Cité Soleil, only a short drive from Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. They traveled with a team formed through Haiti Outreach Ministries. The group of 11 included two doctors, five nurses, and four essential nonmedical personnel from North Carolina and Virginia. In advance of the mission, Brown, Crews-Lloyd, and Hester raised money for the medical supplies and the over-the-counter medication they used for treatment.

Upon arriving in Haiti, the team set up a temporary clinic, and each day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. they received a steady flow of patients.

“We cared for 75 to 80 people per day,” says Brown. “We treated patients suffering from pneumonia, scabies, skin rashes, and infections, and treated asthmatics and malnourished mothers and babies.”

The experience of providing care to people with so little--and doing so overseas--gave them perspective on their work at home.

“It really showed us how fortunate we are,” says Brown. “We had patients lining up to see us at the clinic, even though all of us, including the patients, were fighting off mosquitos during treatments. They were just happy to have medical care.”

One patient in particular sticks out to Brown: a woman suffering from pneumonia, baby in tow. The woman was running a high fever, and the fluid in her lungs could be heard without a stethoscope. Her baby, meanwhile, was dehydrated because the mother couldn't produce breast milk. The group treated the baby and sent the mother to the hospital for further care, but patients are required to pay in advance for hospital treatment in Haiti, so she wasn’t able to be seen. After hearing about the situation, the group told the woman’s sister to bring her back to the clinic; when they saw that the woman was worse and needed more medical attention than what the clinic could provide, one of the doctor’s gave her $25, enough to be treated. The woman has since recovered and she and her baby are doing well.

Perhaps most inspirational was the group’s work in Capvva, a tent city of some 200 families displaced by the earthquake. Although Haiti Outreach Ministries recommended that the group not go to Capvva because of safety concerns, Brown, Crews-Lloyd, Hester, and their colleagues set up a half-day clinic in a school in the tent city and treated more than 90 people over a four-hour period.

The experience of walking around Capvva was emotional for Hester, who recalls children flying kites, tents with decorated doors and fenced-in front yards, women doing chores, and men playing dominoes. She was struck by the effort Haitians put into making the tents their homes.

“For me, seeing that the Haitian people were happy despite having so little and living in such devastation was memorable,” says Hester. “Having a Haitian translator tell me that our visit gives them hope for their future will stick with me forever.”

Every day after clinic the group attended devotion and discussed the day’s events. Recapping what they saw and how they felt brought them closer together and helped them deal with difficult emotions. The nurses returned from Haiti with a strong bond among them and a renewed sense of purpose about their profession, and they’ve made lifelong friends with the other caregivers they worked with. Their mission was so rewarding that they recommend overseas service to other nurses.

“It’s a very good experience,” says Crews-Lloyd. “I liken it to a church revival for nursing. It rejuvenates you. It puts you back in the spirit of why you entered the profession to begin with.”

This was Crews-Lloyd’s second year on a Haiti mission, and Brown and Hester are grateful for her recommendation that they join her.

“When Ashley came back talking about her experience in 2012, I immediately knew that I was going with her this year,” says Hester. And Hester plans on returning next year—and perhaps recruiting other nurses on her floor as well as colleagues that work at other hospitals.

Brown, too, will be back in Haiti in 2014. “I’ve already told my husband that I’m going again next year,” she says, laughing.

In the meantime, as Brown, Crews-Lloyd, and Hester share their experiences with colleagues and incorporate new perspectives into their daily work, UNC Health Care can feel fortunate to have their assistance.