By Tonya Via
After the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, I sat silently and watched the news as my heart turned violently in my chest. I saw many images of the massive destruction, devastation, and despair. The most vivid one that stood out in my mind and forever changed my life was a man lying on a coffee table found among the rubble having his leg amputated as he lye there awake under a tarp in the city. It was then I realized there was something I should do, I could do, and wanted to do to prevent another human being, who survived one of the worst natural disasters we have ever known, from having to experience the same inexcusable horrific pain. I am a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. My responsibility is to alleviate pain and keep my patients safe and comfortable during surgical procedures. The Haitians desperately needed anesthesia care, and I knew I needed to respond.
I knew it would be a logistic challenge getting to Haiti so I began working quickly to align myself with an organization I could volunteer with that shared my same passion, helping the people of Haiti in dire need. The University of Miami Children’s Hospital and Project Medishare graciously afforded me that opportunity. The endless, tiring and unselfish work of Ann McNeil from the neurosurgical department at University of Miami Children’s Hospital, was nothing short of amazing. Through her efforts, she made it possible for me, a complete stranger to her, to become part of the medical volunteer team at Project Medishare and University of Miami’s field hospital.
As the sun was setting in Port-Au-Prince, the jet landed. My heart raced I had so many of those images I had seen on the television and Internet invading my mind. Would I too see the same things? Would I get to take care of the Haitians and provide the anesthesia care I came to do? I took a deep breath and began to prepare myself for the real thing. I had waited nearly two long weeks with a broken heart. I was finally there to do what I came to do, help the victims I had seen suffering. To provide the one thing that the man lying on that coffee table needed the most, proper anesthesia care. We climbed down the stairs of our luxury jet and life, as we knew it ended. It was a sight I couldn’t believe. Waiting our arrival was a team of mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted volunteers standing on the tarmac waiting to return home. Their sense of urgency in returning home quickly changed into an unbelievable organized group of helpful cooperative exhausted individuals. They quickly began helping off-load all the supplies we had brought down from the underside of the jet. It was truly a sight to behold. As if they had any ounce of energy left, here they were passing box after box of food, supplies, drugs and equipment down a line of volunteers next to the dangerously hot engines of the jet. Within 30 minutes the massive amounts of medical supplies and food were unloaded onto the tarmac. Our fellow volunteers boarded their plane to return home, their lives forever changed. Mine was about to be too.