Pueblo Chieftan Article

Correction, that last entry was not the last one for today.

I would like to share this with everyone who has been reading this blog not because I’m being vain (ok, sure, there’s always an element of that too), but because the author, Loretta Sword, captured the essence of my interview with her perfectly. She summed things up for those 2 weeks better than I would have. You could consider this the continuation of the blog I started below entitled “What Hope for Haiti”:

Published: February 02, 2010 12:05 am

Home from Haiti, full of hope

COURTESY PHOTO/DR. JIM SMITH — Smith photographed destruction in Haiti during his recent medical relief trip.

CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/MIKE SWEENEY — Dr. Jim Smith is a Pueblo-based general surgeon who returned Sunday after spending two weeks in Haiti, providing medical aid to survivors of last month’s earthquake there.

Doctor hopes quake buried 200 years of corrupt government

By LORETTA SWORD
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN

After two weeks in an earthquake-ravaged city whose populace is either dead, injured or starving, Dr. Jim Smith returned home Sunday brimming with optimism for those left behind, and their country.

“I can’t quite seem to come down from being wired up,” he said Monday during a telephone interview from home, where he was busy on the Internet and phone, “trying to set up a doctor rotation network through Airline Ambassadors International. They’re making it a year-round program” to transport doctors and other medical professionals to continue treating Haitians injured by the earthquake, as well as the disease that likely is to follow in coming months.

Although he’ll be back at work in his private surgical practice today, he said, “It’s hard to pull yourself away. I’ve already been in contact with my principal partner down there by phone, Dr. (Roger) Jean-Charles. I can’t go back right away, but I’ll be making shorter trips down there as time allows.”

He was able to fly to Haiti on short notice just days after the earthquake because he already had arranged for a two-week break from his practice here for a Health4Haiti surgical mission to Gonaives that now has been pushed back until perhaps as late as July.

Once there, he was immersed in surgical duties — mostly amputations and mending mangled limbs that could be saved — before acting as a coordinator with an army of nonprofits and charities to get more doctors and medical supplies through a bureaucratic maze “that still isn’t organized,” Smith said. “It was the small organizations that got things done the quickest.” Now, he’s trying to make sure that a steady stream of help continues making its way to Haiti.

“Right now, it’s a matter of saturating all medical facilities in Port-au-Prince, but that’s not enough for the rest of the country. There are hundreds of thousands who have left the city and gone with relatives everywhere in the country. There’s broken bones all over that country — the kinds of injuries that ‘keep.’ But by now, they’re healing crooked and all kinds of other bad problems can be expected.”

Although the rest of the country was spared, Smith knows that the medical care available outside the nation’s capital is not at all sufficient to meet the crisis.

“The poor, poor medical infrastructure in Gonaives that we’ve been dealing with and worried about for so many years is no worse than what Port-au-Prince has now. Port-au-Prince is reduced to the level that Gonaives has been at for years,” he said.

So why is optimism the predominant feeling that pervades his recollection of his exhausting journey?

Because the world has been moved by the devastation in Port-au-Prince, and many people seem to understand that there’s much more to be done than simply rebuilding hospitals, businesses and government buildings.

The country has lost many of its government records, most of its historical buildings and national treasures buried beneath the rubble of churches, Smith said. In a sense, they’ve lost some of the essence of their culture, but along with it, a bitter history.

Smith said the losses have emboldened government leaders who are dedicated to breaking the hold of corrupt leaders who drove the entire country into abject poverty long before the earthquake destroyed the country’s capital.

“Being a student of the Haitian story for its 200 years of existence, and the fact that I know a Haitian doctor down there — one who knows people such as the former prime minister, the health minister and other top officials — I am privy to the kind of optimism that actually does exist down there, an optimism that the government is ready to turn around from 200 years of corrupt leadership. There are still corrupt officials, but these many others are people who are interested in the good of the country, their fellow man,” Smith said.

“My other reason for optimism is that, with the huge amount of publicity for such an event, the world is going to provide a lot more help than Haiti would have gotten” if its residents were still struggling in isolated silence.

“Plus, take a national capital and reduce it to absolute rubble — what inferior infrastructure they had is gone — then you have an opportunity to rebuild and do it right, to first-world standards.”

Smith said he also was heartened by the number of Haitian expatriates whose faces were among the sea of foreigners that descended upon Port-au-Prince beginning hours after the earthquake.

“Look at all the Haitian immigrants (in the United States) who have become doctors and lawyers and engineers who have relatives and have been sending money back all these years. That’s a huge resource. They call them the diaspora, and they were there with all the foreigners who came to help. They couldn’t get there fast enough. If the other things I just talked about come true, they will come in even greater numbers to help rebuild. I know they will.”

Smith said he’s not worried that donations for Health4Haiti’s work in Gonaives will be negatively affected by the attention on Port-au-Prince.

“I think all of this crisis will help that, too, although new help is not going to automatically flow into Gonaives. But if those of us with knowledge and energy can divert some of it, that’s a good thing for us to be doing.”

And that’s exactly what he’ll be doing while he catches up with his Pueblo patients and plans the next Health4Haiti mission. That group is still reeling from the destruction wrought by a 2008 hurricane that destroyed the beginnings of a new clinic there, as well as a surgical suite they had renovated in a nearby hospital.

“The team’s trip was postponed, but we’re putting it back together. And I’ll be making shorter trips to work on the bigger picture.”

lorettas@chieftain.com

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