Cindy ParksIn February 2010, pharmacist Cindy Parks, two nurses and a pediatrician from the all-volunteer Oregon Disaster Medical Team were deployed to augment an International Medical Surgical Response Team providing medical assistance to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. “Part of the reason that the four of us were chosen to go was that we had served on medical missions in Haiti before and had an idea of what conditions would be like,” said Cindy. “We knew that along with the hot, humid climate, we would probably be without electricity or running water. With Haiti’s ongoing political situation, especially now that Port-au-Prince lay in shambles, safety would also be an issue.”

In Haiti, the team set up a field hospital on the grounds of the Gheskio Clinic in Port-au-Prince using supplies that had been delivered by a prior team. The soccer field next to the clinic had become the site of a makeshift tent city of sticks, tarps and cardboard that some 7,000 displaced Haitians now called home. “Many residents of the tent city became our patients as the overcrowded living conditions, piled garbage, human waste and swampy ground led to infected wounds, sepsis, tuberculosis, tetanus and malaria,” said Cindy. “Gangrenous limbs that had to be amputated were common. In between gunshot wounds, surgeries, sutures and rehydration therapies, we delivered a few babies.”

Having been in Haiti before, Cindy knew that many of the people there are not well off even in the best of times. Still, she said, Haitians find joy in daily life. “The people we treated were so gracious, so grateful,” she said. “They have beautiful spirits.”

“The people we treated were so gracious, so grateful, they have beautiful spirits.”

Cindy noted that in the aftermath of the earthquake, many Haitians had access to medical care for the first time in their lives. “If there is any silver lining to the horror of the earthquake, it’s that access to medical care, food and water actually improved for many Haitians,” said Cindy. “Their gratitude is overwhelming.”

Cindy also noted the contrast between the mission to Haiti and what she and the Oregon Disaster Medical Team experienced in New Orleans after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. “In New Orleans, of course, people are accustomed to receiving regular medical care,” she said. “They were frightened when that care wasn’t readily available during and immediately after the hurricanes. People felt helpless and abandoned. Our team leader alleviated some of that feeling by asking the ‘walking wounded’ to help the more severely injured victims that we were treating. Once they had a purpose, they felt better.”

After two weeks in Haiti, Cindy returned home to her family and to her work in St. Anthony’s pharmacy. “I’m so fortunate to work with a terrific team here at St. Anthony,” she said. “They are willing to work extra hours to cover my shifts, and that makes it possible for me to volunteer with the Oregon Disaster Medical Team.”

Cindy has some close friends in Haiti, and they tell her the situation there has not changed much since her visit. “Buildings are still lying in ruins, and people who once had homes are living in tents,” she said. “There have been promises of aid from many countries and organizations, but not all of that has become a reality. But, the field hospital we left behind is still operating and being staffed by another volunteer organization. I’m planning to go back to Haiti soon, just as an individual who cares about the people and their health. They touch my heart. I may make only a small difference in the big scheme of things, but for what I give I receive a huge amount of gratitude and joy.”

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