OrthoCarolina health-care workers return to Haiti, recruit other volunteers
by Kara Lopp
When Dr. Robert McBride returns to Les Cayes, Haiti, next month, there are a few things he’s eager to see. Among the most important are clear X-rays with the help of lit view boxes.
McBride, an orthopedic surgeon and president of OrthoCarolina, was one of 20 local health-care professionals who traveled to Haiti last spring on a medical mission through El Shaddai Ministries International. At Immaculate Conception Hospital in Les Cayes, X-rays were crudely examined while taped to a wall, he said. When OrthoCarolina switched to digital X-ray capabilities recently, the firm shipped five view boxes to Les Cayes.
McBride will be able to use the equipment himself when he joins 80 area medical professionals, students, local musicians and others on a return trip to Les Cayes and a nearby orphanage in Cambry, Haiti, next month.
During the two-week mission trip, volunteers will provide medical care, music, sports camps for kids and build a chicken coop for the orphanage so adults and children can raise their own fowl for meat and eggs.
Trip organizer George Collins hopes this mission becomes a lifetime commitment to the Caribbean country. A physician assistant with OrthoCarolina’s Matthews office, Collins has spearheaded the creation of local nonprofit Bless Back Worldwide. He envisions several trips a year to the orphanage bringing help and hope.
The earthquake did not harm Les Cayes, but thousands of people from hard-hit areas such as Port-au-Prince have fled there following the devastation.
“As long as God provides the people and the funding, I think it would be good to put a stake in the ground at the orphanage. We take it a day at a time, but I’m looking forward,” Collins said.
For this trip, which kicks off Dec. 27, Presbyterian Hospital has donated some medical supplies, but Collins estimates the group needs to raise about $120,000 to buy more, including expensive antibiotics. The group also plans to bring medicines to treat diabetes and hypertension in adults and whey protein to give the malnourished a boost.
Bless Back already has received donated sports equipment, hygiene products and 250 pairs of Crocs shoes. Each child at the orphanage also will get a pair of dress shoes for church in their size thanks to local volunteers, Collins said.
‘The need is so great’
Before the team left Haiti in the spring, everyone wanted to come back, said Dr. Roy Blank of Southern Piedmont Primary Care in Monroe. He’ll travel to Haiti this time as the medical director of Bless Back.
“The need is so great. When we were there it was just a sensation of a job not adequately completed,” he said.
For Blank, the children – their faces, their needs – have stuck with him.
“There was sadness in their eyes,” he said. “If you can make a difference for them, you want to go back and do that. If we can assist one generation by going back and getting it on its feet, we want to do that. We all came back changed.”
‘Very, very grateful’
McBride will make the journey this time with his daughter, Kate, a student at Parsons School of Design in New York City. While it will provide a “good bonding experience” for father and daughter, McBride said he expects to take “a spiritual journey” as well.
During his last trip to Haiti, he paid $10 to get an X-ray and blood work for a 4-year-old girl whose hip was fractured. Infection had spread from her hip to femur bone. In Haiti, he said, medical care is only given to those who can afford it – and her parents couldn’t.
When McBride first saw the youngster – he never learned her name – she was lying in a hospital bed screaming in pain.
After performing surgery to clean out her infection and re-set her hip bone, McBride saw that the girl got the body cast she needed. Doctors gave her parents six to eight weeks of antibiotics for her recovery, but McBride never saw her again. Today, he’s left wondering if she fully recovered and is hoping to find her upon his return.
“(Her parents) were very, very grateful to see someone helping their little girl who was laying in bed screaming,” he said.
Sports: the universal language
Josh Reinken doesn’t know anything about medicine, but he knows sports.
The 26-year-old program assistant with Matthews-based SOAR Sports, a ministry of Christ Covenant Church, will make his first trip to Haiti in December. Though he’s been to Africa four times leading sports camps for kids, he’s appropriately dubbed Haiti “a whole new ballgame.”
“I’m excited, but I’m also nervous,” he said. He met Collins through a mutual friend at Matthews’ Elevation Church. “It’s just cool to be able to be a part of Bless Back, to be able to help out just a little bit.”
Reinken, of Indian Trail, will bring donated sports equipment including uniforms and jerseys, soccer balls, volleyballs, basketballs, jump rope, Frisbees and maybe a football or two. He doesn’t speak French or the area’s native Creole, but sports can bridge the gap, he said.
“Sports is a world language, without a doubt,” he said. “Communication will be difficult, but that’s why we need sports and we need games, to be the key relationship builder. It is the most effective ice breaker I’ve ever experienced.”
Want to help?
Bless Back Worldwide needs financial donations to buy medicine, food and building supplies to help the people of Les Cayes. To donate, mail checks to 2102 Lytton Lane, Matthews, NC 28104 or go to the group’s website, www.blessbackworldwide.org.