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Hope for Haiti: School of Nursing alumna volunteers for medical mission trip

Posted: Oct. 22, 2012

It was a simple email that Beth Jackson (MSN, CNS, 2002) received earlier this year that started it.

Dr. Tracie Harrison

After reading about plans to gather a medical team to travel to Haiti to provide relief to inhabitants of Leogane, the town that had been the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake, she immediately knew it was something she wanted to do.

“When I told my husband I wanted to go, he was concerned about safety issues,” Jackson said. “But as we talked about it, investigated InterVol — the organization I would be going with — and talked to another clinical nurse specialist (CNS) who had been before, we both felt better about it and I was all in.”

Most of the group packed their personal items in carry-on bags, but everyone took two large suitcases each that they had packed with donations such as prescription and over-the-counter medications, baby supplies and formula, IV supplies, automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and electrocardiogram (EKG) machines.

“Those bags were at the maximum airline weight limits, we had to leave behind some supplies. We had collected a lot of cash donations to cover the luggage costs,” Jackson said.

And so it was that two and a half years after that tiny island nation was almost destroyed by a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake, Jackson, cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist, flew into Port-au-Prince with a group of 14 physicians, CNSs and nurses. Their destination was only 22 miles from the capital, but because of the disrepair of the roads, getting there was a bumpy three-hour trek. Once there, the team set about sorting the medications and other supplies they would have to haul to a different remote clinic each day.

Many days, most of the health-care team would go to the mobile health clinics, while a few worked at the “komunite” (community clinic) or at the hospital’s emergency department. One of the CNS’s taught EKG interpretation to hospital staff.

Beth Jackson

Beth Jackson (back row center) with the team

The team treated anyone who showed up at the clinics, seeing anywhere from 26 to a maximum of 161 patients with everything from viruses and fungal infections to mumps. The town’s population would learn the medical team was coming only because someone drove the streets on a “moto” (motorbike) with a loudspeaker announcing their presence at the clinics.

One day, a 26-year-old man came to Jackson’s station and explained through an interpreter that he was having chest pain and shortness of breath when he worked, even when he walked.

“As I listened to his chest, I could hear a very loud murmur. At that point, I didn’t have much to offer. It was pretty clear that he would likely need valve surgery, and so I advised him to get to the larger hospital in Port-au-Prince for an echocardiogram,” she said. “We could only guess that he may have had rheumatic fever or a bicuspid valve, but there was nothing more we could do with our limited resources.”

At night the team returned to dorm-like rooms, which, although they didn’t have air conditioning, did have working toilets and showers. The showers, Jackson explained, were mostly a few streams of water and very cold.

“But that was OK. No one wanted warm water because Haiti is very hot and humid. The heat and humidity were the most difficult things we had to cope with,” she said.

Food was prepared for the group and consisted mostly of rice and beans, “pickling” (a cabbage slaw type dish that Jackson admitted to liking quite a lot), chicken, plantains and conch. For $5, they could have laundry washed for them and hung on lines to dry.

Still the signs of destruction were evident everywhere. Most disturbing was the fact that after 29 months after the earthquake many people were still living in tent cities amidst piles of rubble.

“The people, though, were beautiful. They are happy despite their status,” said Jackson. “This was my first medical mission trip, but hopefully not my last!”

InterVol is a community-based nonprofit organization in Rochester, New York, dedicated to serving others through the recovery and redistribution of medical supplies and equipment, bridging local hospitals and medical professionals with other countries and care-giving organizations in areas of need, and providing international educational support.

Since 1989, InterVol has brought together diverse groups of volunteers to give of their time and expertise to those in need in communities around the world.