Haiti Earthquake: Stories to tell

This is the 4th report in a series of daily blogs. The 3rd report is here.

I want to tell you stories.  These are the things that energize us.  These things move us to tears.

Erick Luis was at home on the day of the earthquake.  When the shock hit Port Au Prince, his house not only crumbled to collapse, but sparked an explosion that ignited a small propane leak that had been permeating his house.  Erick was near this explosion.  Near enough that 35% percent of his body was immediately burned.

Imagine this pain.  Your face, back, arms – 35% of your entire skin surface is burned.  Indeed, it’s essentially impossible to comprehend.  Now imagine that your concrete house – so typical of the crumbled remains in Port Au Prince – collapses on you.  Reports are that Erick was trapped for 3 days.  When a group finally discovered and removed him, he laid in the back of a pickup with meager treatment for 2 additional days because the main hospital in Port Au Prince simply said his burns were too extensive for them to treat.

A paramedic from Sausalito, CA, discovered him on a survey trip to Port Au Prince with a group of humanitarians.  They brought him back and he finally began more advanced, pain-killing treatment for his extensive and unimaginable burns.

Haiti Earthquake: Operation Rainbow on the groundErick was the all-bandaged man (at left ) in the second post of these Earthquake updates.  His spirit is absolutely remarkable.  There is a wonderfully energized man behind all the pain and bandages.

Every hour of each day that he remained in the collective care of Operation Rainbow and teams around the world, his wife stood by his bedside.  She told us through translators that she barely slept, kept up because of worry.  She was always tending to him, applying ointment to his charred lips and eyes, always attentive.

Erick was given a gift on Saturday.  So were all of us on site.

Eric was airlifted to the USNS Comfort hospital ship – a far more advanced care facility where he’ll have the strongest fighting chance of beating the burns he’s endured.  He and his wife left aboard a US Blackhawk helicopter, destined for his new point of care.

You have to realize that when one of these massive helicopters lands in a field, just outside the Good Samaritan hospital located near Jimani, everyone around is attentive.  The loud engines and air-slicing sound of the blades glue all of us to the scene while all while it lands.  Partly because it’s awe-inspiring, and mostly because we know someone’s going to get a much better chance at making it.  Doors open and teams mobilize on cue with great care and finesse to transport these critically sick and injured patients to the helicopter.

Operation Rainbow at the Haiti Earthquake

Mrs. Luis, ever caring while we await the Blackhawk helicopter’s landing.

Operation Rainbow at the Haiti Earthquake

Operation Rainbow at the Haiti Earthquake

Operation Rainbow in Haiti after earthquake

Operation Rainbow in Haiti after earthquake

Erick on his way to the USNS Comfort

When Erick flew away we all broke down with hopeful tears.  Grown men and women, seasoned and all.  And of course his wife flew with him, seen in the images.

This is truly the stuff of powerful humanity.

Unbelievable timing

The way in which the following story panned out is one that Hollywood would have a hard time fabricating.

A father/husband loses his family’s home when it collapses during the earthquake.  His only son was at school at the time, which also collapsed during the quake, pinning his son in rubble with a broken left arm and right leg.  Amidst all the chaos this father isn’t able to get to school, largely because he lost his wife to the collapsing house.  Separately, however, his close family friend rushes to the school to pick up his own son, and discovers his friend’s boy has sustained serious arm and leg fractures.

When it was apparent that the father was not coming by the school, the family friend takes the boy to find treatment.  Sadly, like many stories in Port Au Prince, the treatment just wasn’t available.  He eventually crosses the Haitian border into the closest town – Jimani, in the Dominican Republic – and takes his own son and his friend’s to the “Church”.  It’s a rudimentary medical facility where we were in Jimani, across the Haitian border in the Dominican Republic.

Haiti Earthquake: Operation Rainbow at the hospital

A view inside the “Church”

Meanwhile the father has lost his wife – and in his mind – his son as well.  With nothing definitive from the school where he knew his son was at the time of the quake, he searches relentlessly around Port Au Prince and discovers that sites around the area are providing medical care.

Doctors from Operation Rainbow routinely left the Good Samaritan hospital location each day to visit the Church.  It was a place to check up on patients, and also to see what patients may potentially need surgery.  On Friday while making a visit to the Church, the young boy was discovered  to be a candidate for surgery for his arm and leg fractures.

It had been 11 days since this father saw his son.  But he did not stop searching, covering every medical facility in the area, including this obscure location called the Church.  Just as Operation Rainbow doctors were bringing the boy to a van for transport to the hospital, a man who had searched the interior of the Church comes to the door of the van and asks to see inside.  The boy yells “papa!” and the two embrace in a powerfully emotional scene.

Everyone broke down from the inspirational father and son reunion.  Hollywood can’t touch this stuff.

Below is the family friend, the father, and his son.  They wanted the team that did the surgery to be written on the cast – Operation Rainbow.

Operation Rainbow helping the Haiti earthquake relief

Operation Rainbow helping the Haiti earthquake relief

A relentless search, and timing on the order of seconds – where this little boy was literally just about to be brought away in our van – coalesced to create a scene of absolute joy.  While the family friend was committed to caring for his friend’s son, the three were reunited with at least a little less worry and a positive outlook.  Because as it turns out, the surgery went well and the boy’s prognosis is good and clear.  He’ll be able to walk and play again.

The stuff that powers us

All around the hospital, Orphanage, and Church are volunteers.  Diverse groups from all over the globe wonderfully volunteering their help to people they don’t even know.  Helping a stranger is one of the best acts of true compassion.

The little gems that illustrate themselves all over the place keep everyone feeling positive for the long run.  Walking the hallways in scrubs and camera in tow, it was clear I was part of one of the volunteer groups.  Any hallway requires careful navigation around patients and the family members standing by their side.  Doing this, it would not be unusual that a displaced Haitian in a hallway would offer his/her help in various things like the transport of patients or translating creole for medical practitioners.  These people are stressed from scenarios that most of us can’t comprehend, yet they’re offering help to other Haitians all around them.  What can you call this besides inspiring?

Another example of many was meeting a volunteer named Kevin.  He and his cousin were in the Dominican Republic for a planned vacation.  He said they planned to relax on the Caribbean beaches, but with the quake they instead diverted themselves to the closest location to the Haitian border – Jimani.

Kevin had no medical experience to offer.  None.  But the skills needed in Jimani and in Haiti span many areas of life.  Work is needed to move patients, build shelves, stock supplies, deliver meals, or simply comforting patients and orphans.  Kevin and his cousin came from the Dominican Republic (originally from Texas), and because help was needed during the  night shift of 7 pm to 7 am, they volunteered.  They did whatever was needed.  And they did it for three days, sleeping either on a tile floor or in a car.  Working long hours and eating poorly like all of us.

It is such a massive, caring effort.

An amazing resilience

Haiti Earthquake: Operation Rainbow on the groundHaitians are remarkable people.  As if repression from a bad government isn’t enough, they are hit with a monumental disaster.  They arrive at our facility, and yet another earthquake breaks out.  People were scared all over, and it was heightened in a facility called the “Orphanage”.

The Orphange is where many injured are cared for.  Many don’t have injuries that require surgery, but instead require wound cleaning and nutritional follow up.  It’s a two story building that is totally full of people.

Haiti Earthquake: Operation Rainbow at the hospitalWhen an aftershock hit, Haitians in the Orphanage immediately panicked.  They began fleeing the building, from rooms, hallways, and even second story balconies. Two people jumped over the balcony, with one patient sustaining a spinal compression fracture from his jump.  He was already injured to begin with.

These people are understandably scared.  In a matter of 5 very quick minutes, against the pleas from medical volunteers all over the building who asked for calm, all Haitians had moved their beds and belongings out into the field – to a distance that would ensure relative safety should the building collapse.  Below are images showing what had previously been overpopulated hallways and floors, now barren.

Operation Rainbow: Haiti earthquake relief

Operation Rainbow: Haiti earthquake relief

Operation Rainbow: Haiti earthquake relief

We comforted many patients, crying and scared.  One 22 year old man who simply couldn’t control himself from crying, buried his head in our arms while he wept from fear.

Then, about 10 minutes after they all fled the building, the entire crowd of Haitians began singing in unison, led by a pastor who inspired them all.  What a remarkable change in mood from what we’d all just witnessed and from what they all felt.  They’re singing moved us all and spoke immediate stories of their remarkable faith and resilience.

Below is a low-quality video showing their singing.  What wonderful music it is.

[qt:/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/haiti.mov /wp-content/uploads/2010/01/haiti-poster.mov 600 475]

Please donate and share this with friends.  Operation Rainbow is still in Haiti for the next two weeks with two separate teams.  We need your help to help Haitians.  Thank you.


  1. Comment by lauryla
    on January 29, 2010

    I was at Good Sam for 5 days last week. Just wanted to thank you for the excellent photos and stories, but most of all for the work you’ve done there. For the first time in my life I saw scores and scores of people who literally owed their lives to orthopedic surgeries. Amputations are always cause for grief, but in this case each one sparked a hope for life where otherwise there would have been none. Your group’s tireless work was inspiring–I’ve never been so happy to take care of an x-fix! (And for a former burns/plastics nurse, that’s saying a lot…) Thank you!

  2. Comment by Mike Lee
    on January 29, 2010

    Thanks for comment and your “thanks” goes to the Operation Rainbow team!

    And indeed – amputations are not what Op Rainbow surgeons want to do, but here it meant those patients were given a fighting chance to continue life.

    Thanks for being there last week. It was immensely inspiring to see so many turn out to help.

  3. Leave a Reply

    To include code, just include it in [code] [/code] square brackets. Sweet.