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Christians in Haiti are thanking God and praising a U.S. congregation after a vehicle accident sent four mission team members to the hospital — and one to Florida via medevac.
“I seriously have never met people as selfless as this church congregation, particularly this team,” Stephanie Bhullar said of the Riverwood Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn. Despite the trauma the team endured, “they did not let this derail them, and they finished what they came to do, which is to serve others.”
It was the third annual mission trip by Riverwood members to Haiti, where they worked with Children of the Promise near Cap-Haitien. The nonprofit serves orphans, children with special needs and families in northern Haiti through nutrition and adoption programs. The nonprofit oversees Lagossette Christian School.
Bhullar and her husband, Roni, have worked with the ministry for four years. Her brother, Dr. Tim Hinton, a physician at Vanderbilt Health and a deacon of the Riverwood church, led a 16-member mission team, which included 11 children. One of them was Hinton’s son, Zach.
In the midst of cleaning, painting and serving ministries across the city, the team took a day off on July 9 to go to the beach. They traveled to the Labadie cruise port, a popular excursion point for Royal Caribbean passengers.
“The day was perfect,” Bhullar told The Christian Chronicle. “We brought coolers of sandwiches and snacks, and we ordered fresh-caught seafood that was cooked and delivered right to us on the beach.”
As they headed back, half of the group loaded into the ministry’s van. The rest took a hired “tap tap,” a modified truck with bench seating used across Haiti. The van made its way up a hilly road from the port and waited near a security tower for the tap tap to catch up.
It never arrived. About 10 minutes later, Bhullar got a call from her husband: “Hey, there’s been an accident. Tim’s OK. Zach’s OK. I’m OK.
“Jeremy is not OK.”
Details of the accident are unclear, but the tap tap apparently stalled on the hills, drifted backward and struck a rock, flipping onto its side. Bhullar left her phone with the group at the security tower and returned to the port, where she found cruise medics treating wounds and comforting crying children.
She also saw her brother and her husband, both covered in blood, trying to save Jeremy Hitchcock, a team member who had suffered a severe head wound.
Her brother, Dr. Tim Hinton, also was injured — so severely that he couldn’t walk. So he “crawled to Jeremy in the roadway” to administer first aid, Bhullar said.
Bhullar made calls from her husband’s phone, which was shattered and bloody. With help from an American nurse, a Swiss physical therapist and staffers from Children of the Promise, she made arrangements for Hitchcock, her brother and two other injured team members to be taken to a hospital in Milot, nearly two hours away.
The rest loaded into the van and returned to the Children of the Promise compound, where the ministry’s nurses and staff treated five team members for minor injuries. One required stitches. A Haitian nanny made a 40-minute journey by motorbike to assist.
“Tim’s OK. Zach’s OK. I’m OK. Jeremy is not OK.”
At the hospital, Bhullar and Hinton spent hours making arrangements for a medevac flight for Hitchcock. They also had to keep Hitchcock awake due to concerns about brain injury. At 2:45 a.m., in the midst of their exhaustion and frustration, an American who works with Streethearts (another nonprofit served by the mission team) arrived to help. Another volunteer came at 4:30 a.m., taking over arrangements and talking with Hitchcock’s wife in Tennessee.
After multiple attempts to find a U.S. hospital that would admit them, the group arranged a medevac flight for Hitchcock and Hinton. They endured a grueling, 30-minute ride to the airstrip in the back of Land Rover over partially unpaved roads. Finally, nearly 18 hours after the accident, the two men were on their way to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I cried tears of relief that they were finally in that airplane, packed full of more resources than all the hospitals in our area combined,” Bhullar said.
Hitchcock is recovering in Florida, where he was treated for a broken clavicle and ribs, a fractured wrist, a small brain bleed and a torn scalp. There’s no sign of brain damage, Bhullar said. His wife and his mother are with him.
Hinton suffered nerve damage and fractures in his sacrum bone, plus ruptured and bulging discs in his back.
In Haiti, “he never complained about pain once,” Bhullar said of her brother. “He never took any pain meds. … It doesn’t seem like it was until he could finally relax on the medevac flight that he felt his own pain.”
The rest of the team, including Hinton’s son, took a day off and went back to work, serving at the Second Mile Haiti ministry. They later spent long hours making repairs and cleaning the Children of the Promise facility before returning to Nashville.
“They are the most selfless people I know,” Bhullar said.
As for the accident, “it took a village of people to pull off that medevac and medical care in a place where it is far from easy,” she added. “Praise God for the friends and family that came together to get Jeremy to where he needed to be.”
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