Missouri volunteers change lives in Haiti

I recently traveled to a rural hospital in northern Haiti that has been serving the people of the town of Milot for more than 20 years.

It's the same hospital where Mid-Missouri medical teams traveled just days after the quake.

This week we will share the stories of some of the patients who have called this place home for several months as they recover from devastating injuries.

"When we were here in January this is where we had our emergency room," explains Rick Baker, a flight paramedic for University Hospital in Columbia. "If you see the squares on the basketball court here, those were our triage bays."

Baker recalls the first time he came to Haiti just days after the quake as this 70 bed hospital swelled to serve 400 victims from Port-au-Prince. Rick's been back two more times and seen many changes at the Hospital Sacre Coeur and the medical compound known as CRUDEM.

Baker recalls, "The area we're in now, at the end of January was completely covered in trees. This section they clear cut at the end of my first visit, and by the time I made it back for my second they had tents one through six."

By mid-April when I arrived with a KRCG camera, the tents and other buildings housed 200 patients, with incredible stories of loss.

Like a woman who is at the hospital to accompany her nephew being treated there. She told me through a translator, "I lost my husband and six children, that makes seven. My sister was a doctor in the General Hospital, She died with her children when another house fell on her. They're all gone."

But in the same room I found incredible stories of survival.

Pediatric nurse practitioner Suzanne Strathman from Mid-Missouri explains. "Edwine, the older girl was trapped for several days under rubble and baby Fiona was found under five people who had died, including her mother."

Strathman works for TLC Pediatrics in Marshall and Sedalia. After spending just a few days in Haiti she watched her patients progress from using wheelchairs to relying on crutches and canes. But, it's healthcare delivered amid difficult circumstances. "The children are sleeping on cots for the most part," explains Strathman, "There's no running water, no running toilet that functions."

Meals for the patients are provided by the people from the town of Milot. The children get two meals a day, but the first day I was there they ate three. Malnutrition is a serious problem for children in Haiti. The people here tell me fewer than half of the adults have jobs. A visit to the town market quickly shows even if people do have money there is little to buy.

But the medical director here says the people of Haiti are resilient. Dr. Harold Previl explains, "We are people whose faith helps us overcome any problem that comes. We were supposed to be depressed, psychotic, and everything like that, but on every Haitian face, even the patients you will see a smile."

Indeed, almost everyone shared a smile with me, like 22-year-old Viinese Joseph who lost her family and her leg in the quake.

She told me through a translator why she smiles despite her circumstances. "It's better to smile than to be uptight and sad because it doesn't help the situation," adding that God gave her a smile.

Thursday night at ten we'll tell you about what the greatest needs for treatment in Haiti and how the patients in this tent city have made special bonds.