Richmond Hill doctor Amy Pearson’s heart went out when she witnessed, along with millions of other television viewers around the world, the thousands of senseless deaths in Haiti that occurred from lack of medical care following the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Instead of staying glued to her TV set, Pearson followed her heart and flew to Haiti to personally treat quake victims.
"When I watched Katrina happen, I really wanted to go but the government told people not to go. We found out later that was the wrong advice," Pearson said. "This time, I just knew I could help by going. I couldn’t pack my bags quick enough."
The quake happened on a Tuesday. Pearson landed in Haiti the following Sunday. She, along with several other medical professionals, flew in on a small plane that landed in Port-au-Prince.
This was not Pearson’s first trip to the capital city. She had travelled there multiple times before during mission trips. She said the view of the disheveled cityscape looked similar than past times as she got off the plane, "but then I started to see the rubble and all the bodies lying on the roadsides."
Immediately upon arrival, Pearson was struck by the overwhelming stench of death in the air and observed a makeshift tent city that neighbored the airport and comprised of people from all over the world that had migrated to Haiti to lend a hand.
She and her fellow doctors were escorted to the local hospital, which was only partially accessible due to structural damage and had no electricity. Fortunately, the group had access to a generator.
Pearson said she slept little and spent every waking hour of her 4 days there in surgery. She performed 40 operations – 35 of which were amputations of limbs that were crushed as buildings collapsed that fateful day.
But supplies were extremely limited in the 10 foot by 14 foot ER. Pearson’s group had brought some surgical instruments and anesthetic drugs, and the only tools on hand at the hospital were about two dozen syringes.
"Fortunately, an anesthesiologist from Denver arrived with local anesthetics to numb the patients as we operated," she said. "But when the numbness wore off, they just had to deal with the pain. And there weren’t enough antibiotics around to keep the infections down during post op – which took place on the ground outside the hospital."
Pearson said the whole situation was frustrating in that she cannot fathom how this level of devastation could become such a helpless situation in this day and age.
"It has completely overwhelmed the world’s resources," she said. "The world was woefully unprepared for something like this."
The Haitian government has declared 212,000 as the known death toll, but Pearson suspects the actual number to be well over 300,000.
Pearson said she was proud of the U.S. military, whose troops were stretched thin in apparent efforts to help. However, she said she was highly disappointed in the lack of outreach from the United Nations, who is charged with getting supplies out.
"My observations of the U.N. were mostly meeting and pointing guns at people," Pearson said. "It’s like they are afraid of poor people. It’s almost criminal how unprepared they were."
She said it was abundantly clear to her that there needs to be more preparedness in place than just the United Nations should something like this occur again. She contemplated the idea of having an organized pool of doctors from around the world that are ready to come together for future disasters of this magnitude.
It appears that the country of Haiti will be devastated for years to come, but Pearson said the millions of affected Haitians have not given up hope.
"The Air Force colonel who is in charge of the airport was quoted as saying when he landed there, he knew the true meaning of ‘God-forsaken.’ I’m here to tell right now that God hasn’t forsaken them," Pearson said. "They recognize God in their presence right now. They’re obviously terrorized by the earthquakes. Every time after an aftershock, people would scream and children would cry, but they’d all follow that by singing the Haitian national anthem. It was really inspiring."