As Haiti quake anniversary nears, local team is returning
Sue Behrens expects Jan. 12 to be a day of “raw emotions.”
A year ago, it was a day of unimaginable tragedy.
As the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti nears, Behrens — a registered nurse and director of the emergency department and trauma services at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria — is preparing to lead a 21-member medical mission team to serve at a clinic in Cyvadier operated by the Friends of the Children of Haiti.
Behrens was part of a team that travelled to Haiti just six days after the massive quake that claimed nearly 223,000 lives, left 1.5 million homeless, and destroyed dozens of Catholic churches, schools, and institutions, including the cathedral in Port-au-Prince.
Catholics from the Diocese of Peoria — which has a long tradition of assisting communities and parishes in the impoverished Caribbean nation — were generous in their response in the ensuing months.
A diocese-wide collection requested by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in the days after the quake raised more than $520,000 to support the work of Catholic Relief Services in Haiti. That sum does not include collections at Catholic schools or private donations to CRS or other relief agencies. Nor does it include support — financial, prayerful, or of time and talents — during the past year given to grassroots organizations within the diocese such as FOTCOH, founded by Deacon Richard and Barb Hammond of St. Anthony’s Parish, Bartonville.
AND NOW, CHOLERA . . .
Asked if the medical team will pause and pray on anniversary date, Behrens replied: “We pray every day for our patients.”
There are a lot of patients, and even more need.
The FOTCOH team, which includes four employees of OSF Saint Francis, expects to treat 2,500 patients at the clinic during its Jan. 11-21 visit.
Some patients may be affected by the cholera outbreak the nation is now experiencing, which itself has claimed nearly 3,500 lives in the past three months and sickened about 160,000. While more centered in devastated Port-au-Prince, several hundred cases of cholera have now been reported on the southern coast.
Among those who have given generously of their time in Haiti is Dr. John Carroll, a Peoria physician who spent about three months of 2010 in Haiti and has served since Thanksgiving Day at a Cholera Treatment Center in the Cite Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince. Dr. Carroll, a member of St. Mark’s Parish, is the founder of Haitian Hearts, which brings children and young adults in desperate need of heart surgery from Haiti to treatment centers in the U.S.
As bad as the cholera numbers sound, Dr. Carroll says the reality is worse.
“Most cases of cholera and cholera-related deaths go unreported,” Dr. Carroll told The Catholic Post. He suggested multiplying the reported figures by four.
Dr. Carroll writes movingly about two cholera victims treated at the clinic in a column titled “Magda” that appears on the Haitian Hearts’ website, haitianhearts.com.
Meanwhile, persons who want to follow the FOTCOH medical mission team during the next two weeks, including as they share their experiences on the anniversary date, can do so via an online blog at fotcoh.org.
“Everybody has a story,” says Behrens of the people served at the clinic. “We’ll try to share the stories of what the anniversary means to them.”
A mission trip planned this month by the Haiti Mission Connection was canceled because of fears of political unrest when the nation’s election results are announced. Sean Kerwin, president and director of the organization that serves people in the village of Bodarie, said options for a trip in late spring will be explored at a January board meeting.
The Haiti Mission Connection sponsors a Haitian nurse at a clinic full time and is also active in a clean water project. Learn more at its website, haitimissionconnection.org.
Other Haiti-assisting groups based in the Diocese of Peoria include the Haiti Mission Project, which includes a core group of volunteers from St. Mary’s Hospital in Streator that helps support a center in Jeremie, and the Friends of the People of Haiti, a group founded from Sacred Heart Parish in Moline two decades ago to maintain a relationship of prayer and friendship with the people of St. Anne’s Parish in Trouin.
A group from Sacred Heart traveled to Trouin last summer to install equipment to provide drinkable water to the region and assess damage to St. Anne’s Church.