By: Dr. David Vanderpool, LiveBeyond Founder and CEO
Six years ago today, we were frantically preparing to deploy our rapid response team to Haiti. The news reports were grimly reporting the mounting death toll of the 7.0 trembler which struck south west of the tiny island nation's capital. We loaded search and rescue equipment alongside our surgical supplies and triple checked our disaster relief checklist hoping to get it all on the airplane bound for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (D.R.).
As our team approached the American Airlines ticket counter in Nashville, we saw the gate agent's face fall when she spied our eleven overstuffed one hundred pound bags. The smiling supervisor quickly had our bags loaded on the plane when she heard the details of our mission and profusely thanked us for our sacrifice. The flight to the D.R. was filled with anticipation of what challenges we would face and worry over whether we had brought sufficient surgical equipment to repair the shattered lives we expected to see.
We landed in Santo Domingo and rented vehicles to make the uncertain trek west to Haiti. Through a friend of a friend, we had secured an unused hospital on the border of Haiti and the D.R., but had only cryptic directions, a tourist map and a finicky GPS. As darkness fell, we began the trip over rough roads in hopelessly overloaded vehicles. Because of the excessive weight in the back, our headlights shone at a forty five degree angle upwards. This made the endless potholes unavoidable but provided a source of mirth for the locals. We found that as we passed through their villages they would laugh and cheer as we blindly hit their seemingly endless supply of speed bumps at full speed. Amazingly, the vehicles' suspensions lasted long enough to get us to our destination. We arrived at the border hospital around two o'clock in the morning which would serve as a base of operations for months to come.
The wounded had heard that an American surgeon was coming and had made herculean efforts to travel to the hospital. They arrived on foot with friends and family carrying the the earthquake victims with shattered limbs as delicately as they could. Donkeys were enlisted to bring their injured riders strapped to their backs and groaning with every step to the hospital. Pickup trucks each laden with twenty or so of the lucky ones ground their gears up the hill to the make-shift emergency room. They were waiting when we arrived.
Thinking that our journey was grueling, we looked forward to a little rest before we started to work, but this was not to be. As we lugged our heavy gear into the hospital we saw hundreds of severely injured people desperately looking to us for care. As the only doctor present, I started a triage station to more efficiently deal with the ever expanding number of people wanting to receive care. Throughout that night and non-stop for three more days, we set broken bones, stemmed hemorrhage and amputated crushed limbs. Many of the most severely injured didn't live to see the dawn, and the body count became overwhelming.
Those first 72 hours were full of blood, shattered bones, screams, and bereft of sleep, food and help. We struggled through with our small team until others arrived. We had put out the word that we needed help and people responded in droves. Doctors, nurses and much needed supplies arrived in huge quantities saving the lives of thousands of Haitians. These unnamed medical staff, logistics experts and churches who tirelessly worked around the clock to bring healing and sustenance to the injured Haitians are the true heroes of this disaster.
As the medical staff and support personnel arrived, we began to make daily trips into Port-au-Prince to help dig people out of the rubble and bring them back to the hospital. On one such trip, we noticed two helicopters sitting in a baseball field outfield that we frequently passed on our way to the border. Desperate for a better mode of transportation, we stopped to get more information. Sitting behind a folding table under a large tent, were three men dressed in black t-shirts and military style pants. Besides the helicopters, there was a large shipping container full of supplies, numerous satellite phones and a large flatbed truck. Because of their excellent physical conditioning, supplies and style of dress, I immediately thought that they were members of the CIA or some other unknown three letter government agency. I enquired about the helicopters and they immediately agreed to help transport us to and from Port-au-Prince to provide care for the injured. Thinking that they were in a generous mood, I asked to borrow the flatbed truck. When they agreed to let me use it as long as I needed, I was convinced that they were some kind of government operatives. This idea was shattered, however, when they saw my satellite phone on my belt and asked if I could show them how to use theirs. It turned out that they were a group of Mormons who had made a lot of money, and were just trying to help. We became friends and worked together tirelessly throughout our stay in Haiti! One of the blessings of this business is the kind of people with whom you work.
in 2013, my wife, Laurie, and I moved to Thomazeau, Haiti indefinitely to truly help the Haitian people and provide a lasting impact in the country. We're on a mission to transform Haiti for the Kingdom of God. The pain, destruction and hurt from the earthquake still lingers, but each day we see lives change through hope that only comes from Jesus Christ.
Today, we're treating more than 15,000 patients per year at our medical clinic, caring for hundreds of pregnant women through our maternal health program, feeding 30,000 meals to the community each month, educating impoverished children, and so much more.