Top doc: Haiti still needs help

TOPHoeksemaandburnsLEAD

When the momentum for fundraising
and the images of the devastating earthquake fades from people’s minds, the
people of Haiti will continue to need help, according to Cayman’s Medical
Director of the Health Services Authority, Greg Hoeksema.

Dr. Hoeksema recently returned from
a 10-day trip to the stricken country. While in Haiti, he visited four
hospitals, helping to treat patients and taking inventories of medical supplies
and equipment.

Based in Pignon, 60 miles from the
wrecked Port au Prince, where there was no damage from the earthquake and to
where 37 injured quake victims were evacuated, Mr. Hoeksema said of the town’s Hospital
Bienfaisance: “It was kind of crowded in there. The hallways were filled with
earthquake victims in beds.”

At that hospital, and others
throughout Haiti, medical teams from overseas are in place, assisting victims.

“All over Haiti, there are a lot of
medical personnel on the ground. It got to the point where they were telling
people they had adequate folks to take care of earthquake victims and medical
staff working on a day-to-day basis,” Mr. Hoeksema said.

At Pignon alone, as well as Mr.
Hoeksema, there was a team from Minnesota consisting of two orthopaedic surgeons,
an anaesthetist and a general surgeon, and a team from West Virginia with a plastic
surgeon, a general surgeon, an anaesthetist and a surgical nurse.

“That is why we did not call for
more medical help in Cayman. There are still people willing to go. We are kind
of holding off on that and staying in touch through the Rotary world.

“When it all quietens down and the
world’s attention turns to another place and another story, we hope to be able
to be still providing some help,” he said.

Mr. Hoeksema’s trip was funded and
organised by the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman and supported by Cayman’s Health
Services Authority and Ministry of Health, which sent medical supplies with
him.

He treated not just earthquake
victims, but the patients who were in the hospital for other reasons, including
a little girl who had scalded herself with a hot pan of water.

Among the most common
earthquake-related injuries he encountered were badly fractured limbs, he said.

“Me and two other guys divvied up
the ward work and helped with wounds that did not need to go back into the
operating theatre.

“I did an assessment of the
hospital supplies provided by Rotary… who wanted an accurate overview. They
have been providing the hospital over the course of time and wanted an
assessment of what we could do to plug the specific needs – not just for earthquake
relief but longer term,” the doctor said.

To this end, he visited three other
hospitals in the towns of Port de Paix and Cap Haitien.

“I have good contacts now at the
four hospitals and I’m going to stay in touch with them and with Dick McCombe
[Rotary Past District Governor in the Bahamas who is coordinating earthquake
relief efforts].

“I think that right now, the acute
need has been met. There are still some gaps here and there. They have large
amounts of stuff stacked in Port au Prince area. The logistics of getting it
where it needs to be are very difficult.

“We had that same issue on a
microcosmic level at the hospital in Pignon. There were two rooms filled with
stuff that people had sent. I knew what was in the boxes from the Cayman
Islands, but I spent a whole day just going through boxes and comparing it to
the list of things that the hospitals needed,” he said.

Tense encounter

During his visit, Dr. Hoeksema and some
medical colleagues found themselves in a tense situation when a mob surrounded
their vehicle near an airstrip outside Pignon and blocked their way with a
makeshift barrier of tyres and cinder blocks.

He had been accompanying the two
orthopaedic surgeons from Minnesota to their aircraft when they were leaving
the country. The crowd, some brandishing machetes and sticks, was upset that
supplies were being flown into the country, but not being given to them.

“The crowd was building up and
getting rather noisy. I was trying to see if we were really in some danger. I
needed to find the driver, who had left the truck and gone into the crowd, so
I… went into the crowd to find him. That was about the time they lit the tyres
at the roadblock. There was putrid black smoke billowing towards the SUV,” he
said.

He managed to contact Guy Theodore,
head of the hospital in Pignon and a presidential candidate, who came to talk
to the crowd.

Eventually, they managed to walk past
the roadblock and the Minnesota surgeons got on the flight, urging Mr. Hoeksema
to come with them, but he said he decided to stay.

“Looking back,” he said after his
return to Cayman, “I’m not sure exactly how much danger we were really in, but
it sure felt uncomfortable.”

Word choice

Asked about his reaction to some
furore over an interview with the Caymanian Compass just before he left for
Haiti in which he said the “sexy time” to go to Haiti was immediately after the
earthquake, he said he regretted his choice of words.

The comment led to some discussions
and comments on radio talk shows in Cayman, some even calling for the doctor’s
resignation.

“I wish I would have said that
differently. It might not have been the best word choice.

“Rotary and other organisations
have been doing a lot of work in Haiti long term. The exciting time right after
the earthquake is over, now it’s a much more difficult slog to really try to
continue to make a difference and keep and maintain that level of commitment.

“The world is turning its attention
to the next news story. That was the point I was trying to make.”

TOPHoeksemaandburnsSTORY

Dr. Hoeksema treats two-year-old Elisma, a child who was scalded with boiling water.
Photo: Greg Hoeksema