Two West Orange residents brought their skills as healers to the children of Haiti, a land still reeling with severe medical, food, and economic problems months after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
Pediatric orthopedist Barbara Minkowitz and Ari Faiwiszewski, her summer intern at the Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center in Morristown, were in Haiti Aug 1-10, treating children with a range of afflictions.
They worked at Adventist Hospital in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, where there were no orthopedic surgeons on duty.
“I went to take care of them in clinics, especially the children who were born with club feet,” Minkowitz told NJ Jewish News in a telephone interview two weeks after returning home.
“The acute problems from the earthquake were taken care of for the most part, but now they are in a new phase of what needs to be dealt with,” she added. “Orthopedically, the problems have become more chronic in nature, with adults and children alike with broken bones that had not been set correctly or not set at all. Coupled with serious malnutrition and a lack of medicines, infections are widespread and often difficult to diagnose.”
Minkowitz signed on with the Loma Linda University Global Health Institute in California, an organization that links health care professionals with spots around the globe where their services are desperately needed.
She and Faiwiszewski were joined by Minkowitz’s partner, Dr. Tim Leier, and physicians’ assistant Lisa Campo.
On a one-to-10 scale, with American medical care at 10, Minkowitz rated the Haitian system at two.
“It is hard to treat the patients there,” she said. “There are no CAT scans, bone scans, MRIs. Those things don’t happen routinely like they do here. It’s medieval.”
Haitian hospitals lack the facilities to identify roots of individual infections or to dispense the proper antibiotics. The problem is compounded by the lack of proper hygiene and the presence of sewage in the streets, she told NJJN.
But, the doctor said, the Haitians use a device called the Wound Vac, a suction device that draws infections out of injuries. “This is a combat treatment and it works beautifully,” she said. “It cuts the need for antibiotics and does a good job of cleaning wounds,” most notably the amputations that were widespread in the days following the quake.
Hope to return
Faiwiszewski (pronounced “Five-oh-shevski”), a Rutgers University senior, said he aspires to become a plastic or orthopedic surgeon.
“I went to Haiti because I thought it would be a great opportunity to get medical experience,” he said. “I would not consider my trip fun, but it was a terrific experience. I am very happy I went.”
Faiwiszewski said the experience has made him “a lot more selfless.”
“Being with the other volunteers there is such a selfless atmosphere that it was contagious,” he said. “By the time I left, I wasn’t thinking about how it was going to help me. I was worried about a little girl who had a leg amputated and would she be OK with her prosthetic limb. And there was a little boy whose parents died from AIDS and he has HIV himself. How will he respond to the medication he was put on?”
When she arrived, Minkowitz spoke no Creole, “but by the time we left I could actually converse in my college French,” she said.
Patients who came to the hospital in Haiti “were dressed like they were going to church. No kids were running up and down. There was not one spoiled brat. It was such a good feeling to be able to help.”
“People here are much more expecting of getting treatment,” she said. “You can’t expect to do in Haiti what you do here. You do the best you can, but it is a very different venue.”
Both Minkowitz and Faiwiszewski said they hope to return to Haiti in January.
“Doing any kind of charity work and helping others is very relevant to being Jewish,” Minkowitz added. “By giving my time I feel I gave something that was even more meaningful than just throwing money at Haiti. I personally got to know these people and I got to help them, and it really touched me.”