Three years later, medical missionary recalls horror and hope after Haiti earthquake
Dr. David Vanderpool posts his thoughts on the days that followed the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that claimed 316,000 lives and destroyed much of Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince.
Vanderpool, a trauma surgeon who specializes in tropical medicine for the developing world, is founder and CEO of Mobile Medical Disaster Relief. The Brentwood, Tenn., nonprofit gets supported in part by Churches of Christ. Vanderpool was one of the first on the ground after the earthquake, traveling through the neighboring Dominican Republic and setting up a hospital near the border.
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 2 am 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.
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In the years since the quake, “we have developed deep friendships with the Haitian people,” Vanderpool writes. “So much so that we have bought land there and are building a hospital, orphanage, school, church, vocational school and a demonstration farm.
“There will be more earthquakes but now we won’t have to travel to provide relief to the suffering.”