(Gordon Griffith, R.N. of Mayo Clinic Team 2 talks about his trip to provide medical support to the devastated community of Haiti following the earthquake there. A longer, more detailed version of his comments can be found here.)
In January of 2010, the island nation of Haiti suffered a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands and displaced many others. A year after the tragic event, the nation’s citizens were still reeling from the aftermath where disease, homelessness and poverty were rampant.
Leaders of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, after an extensive safety evaluation, decided that it was safe enough for teams from the clinic to travel to Haiti and provide medical support. Gordon Griffith, R.N., and emergency department nurse, was one of those selected for the mission and served on the second of ten teams that traveled to Haiti to provide medical support.
Griffith arrived in Port Au Prince where Mayo Clinic Team 2, under the leadership of Dr. Chris Farmer, a pulmonologist, embedded itself with a charitable organization already on the ground, Operation Blessing. The mission of Team 2 was to provide medical services to a hospital and clinic run by Dr. Rick Frechette, a Catholic Priest, medical doctor and missionary.
You can see Fr. Frechette’s early commentary about the earthquake’s effects on You Tube here.
Griffith and other members of the team were impressed by Frechette even though they worked with him only a short time, Griffith says.
“He’s a catholic priest, who is also a doctor, who givers sermons in combat boots,” said Griffith, describing Frechette. “He was an amazing man and quite inspirational to hear.”
Team 2 stayed and provided assistance for just one week, providing education and medical care to patients in poverty. Cholera was one of the major diseases common amongst the patients seen by the team, a result of the deplorable sanitary conditions of the shanty towns in which many of the population lives, Griffith said.
About midway through Team 2’s week of service, the team was allowed to visit an orphanage for young children displaced by the earthquake. Many of the children are without parents because of the earthquake or were abandoned because of severe injury or illness. According to Griffith, the purpose of the visit was just to provide comfort to the children who have little affection or human contact.
“We were allowed to see one of the orphanages that Operation Blessing had organized,” Griffith said. “It was developing into an oasis. We got to interact with all these kids, and because they no longer had their parents, many just had an innate need to be held and so we as care givers just gave.”
“They (the children) indicated what they needed,” continued Griffith. “And for a while we were able to provide some time for that.” The clinic was clean, well organized and had a competent, caring staff which provided many healthy activities, food and clothing for the children under their care, Griffith said.
One of the major goals of the teams sent by the Mayo Clinic was to provide care at a level that was sustainable by the Haitians themselves after the teams of healthcare workers were gone, Griffith said.
Holly Hanson, R.N. of the Mayo Clinic Team 2 documented the trip with her photography, some of which we include here. Hanson also produced a You Tube video describing the teams mission here.
Frechette’s charitable work earned him recognition in the United States and he was awarded the Hollywood Humanitarian Award in October of 2009.
Hollywood Actress Maria Bello, of the hit TV series ER, made the award presentation to Frechette.
“We were there (in Haiti) to visit Father Rick Frechette and his life-changing programs for the poor,” says Bello. “(He) is a priest and doctor who has lived and worked in the slums of Port Au Prince for decades. He saw the conditions of the poor and disenfranchised, and works tirelessly everyday to bring dignity and hope to the people there.”
Accepting the award, Frechette said,
“It is a sign of your interest to help the poor children of Haiti to move to a world of more Justice, more peace and more opportunity.”
Describing the charisma of the humble priest, Griffith said.
“He is a man equally comfortable addressing the rich and famous, politicians and movie stars, as he is talking and working with humanitarians and the poor disenfranchised children of his parish.”
Mayo Clinic Team 2 consisted of the following members: Dr. Chris Farmer, Dr. Mark Enzler, Dr. John Meuller, Gordon Griffith R.N., Shannon Hackbart R.N., Shannon Rodriguez R.N., Amy Brabec R.N., Holly Hanson R.N., Kathy Asp R.N. C.N.P., Laurie Vlasak R.N. C.N.P.
*Disclusure: Gordon B. Griffith is the older brother of the author of this column. He has served previously as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Guatemala, Central America; has served as a Navy Corpsman providing medical relief as part of a Navy Fleet Hospital in Togo West Africa; and provided medical support as a Corpsman to a detachment of U.S Marines in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He works as an emergency department nurse at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic.