My name is: Dr. Bernard Nau
My relationship to HHHI is: Country Medical Director for Healing Hands for Haiti International.
For how long: From 2006 to June 2010 I was Chair of the Haitian Board of Directors and a member of the HHHI Governance Committee.
Describe what you do: Haiti has been my life-long home. I was privileged to get a good education and study medicine in my country, specializing in orthopaedics. I completed postgraduate work abroad then returned to Haiti with a strong desire to give back to my country.
For many years I taught orthopaedic residents at the ill-equipped medical school in Port au Prince. Then I began a private practice and gave one day each week to serve the poor at mission hospitals. My challenge, over the years as an orthopaedic surgeon in Haiti, has been to provide care to an impoverished people, using out-dated equipment with little access to even basic surgical implants and instrumentation.
Describe your experience of the earthquake: I got the news that Haiti had experienced a large earthquake while on the Miami airport tarmac, moments before taking off for Switzerland to attend a meeting as team physician of the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball.
Your immediate response: After many attempts, I was finally able to get on a flight to Port au Prince on January 17. Upon arrival, I learned that two of my orthopaedic surgeon colleagues (Dr. Eric Edouard and Dr. Lascaze Buissereth) died in the quake. Everyone I knew had lost a close family member.
Within days of my return to Haiti, I was amazed by team after team of surgeons and nurses from all over the world who put their lives on hold to help. They quickly set up a triage in the parking lot at the hospital where I have my private practice, Centre Hospitalier du Sacré-Coeur (CDTI). Even more helpful to me than their physical support was their deep concern about the pain and sorrow my countrymen were experiencing. This got me through some very long and difficult days. Even more humbling was how the CDTI hospital owners, Dr. Reynold Savain and his wife, Genevieve Audain Savain, responded to the tragedy. Without hesitation, they opened the door of their life’s investment to the needy and desperately wounded people of their country (without a thought to how it would impact the future of their hospital).
Their act of kindness and spirit of generosity has had a profound effect on my view of why I was “called” to the field of orthopaedics.
The extent of care provided during the relief effort has made a huge difference for many of the injured. The recovery rate and quality of follow-up care for those treated has far exceeded my original expectations. All of the patients are very grateful.
What are your hopes for Haiti’s future? One wonders what is ahead for Haiti when the novelty of the earthquake story wears thin. How well will the patients recover if sufficient medicines are not available to treat the inevitable infections? Will my hospital survive now that it has lost income while incurring significant expenses by providing free care to all who came? What about my private practice and our employees? How will I re-establish my practice to provide for my family? What will be my “new normal”? On January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a great loss of life (some estimates are as high as 200,000) and property. Many are living under homemade tents and fearing the aftershocks. At least one third of our entire population lost a close family member.
Bones, when properly set, heal within weeks. People eventually learn to adapt to amputations.
Emotional scars, however, can be paralyzing and may never heal.
Now that the initial crisis in Haiti is over the medical teams will leave and return to their own lives. The Haitian orthopaedists will remain, to pick up the pieces. However, the less glamorous task, to rebuild, is even more important. What the “rebuild” looks like is the key.
We believe that the Haitian orthopaedic community is uniquely positioned to rebuild in a better way. We have an opportunity to re-engineer so that one day we may become known as an orthopaedic Center of Excellence. Most would think this an unrealistic and audacious goal but we think it is not impossible.
Many view Haiti as a country that has no potential. I believe, however, that the Haitian orthopaedic community can not only survive this disaster, but, in fact, thrive in the years to come. Some help is needed, at least in the next few years, to achieve this goal.