By Jennifer Browning
Dr. Andre Vulcain checked into the Visa Lodge near the Port-au-Prince airport January 12 after his connecting flight to Cap Haitien was canceled due to bad weather in the region. He planned to fly out the next day, but the earth shook the capital city that evening, and Dr. Vulcain’s plans were dramatically changed.
While the Project Medishare/UM Global Institute team accompanied by Dr.
Barth Green were the first foreign medical team to arrive in Haiti after the earthquake. Dr. Vulcain was the first Haitian-American to begin treating earthquake victims.
Former Project Medishare Board member, Dr. Vulcain said the earthquake hit while he was in his hotel room.
“For me it was a big scare rather than real harm, ” Dr. Vulcain said. “I was emotionally shaken, but physically fine.”
After hearing about the widespread destruction caused by the earthquake, Dr. Vulcain actively looked for his immediate relatives living in the city. His sister-in-law and niece crawled out of the rubble of their heavily damaged home. They had mild contusions, but they were alive. Although happy that his relatives were fine, Dr. Vulcain couldn’t escape the despair which surrounded him.
“People on the streets were shell-shocked and some neighborhoods looked like they had been bombed,” he said. “Dead people were lying on the sidewalks and the valiant Haitian people, in an impressive demonstration of solidarity and compassion, were the first bare-hand responders without support or guidance from the authorities, trying frantically to extract some unfortunate victims from the rubble.”
Two days after the quake, Dr. Vulcain found his way to Delmas 75 where his aunt lived. While he received news of the Project Medishare/UM Global Institute setting up a trauma hospital at the airport, he couldn’t reach the team. There was lack of fuel and traffic on the roads leading to the airport was chaotic.
Instead of working his way back to the airport, Dr. Vulcain walked to an orphanage who was providing care to earthquake victims. Fifty patients crowded around the courtyard. Two Haitian doctors, Dr. Paul Pelissier, and orthopedist and Dr. Gabriel, an anesthesiologist who two lived in the neighborhood and had been working there since the morning. Dr. Vulcain joined the doctors and surveyed the situation noting the supplies and medicine available. Two rooms were converted into a pediatrics ward
“Fortunately, the orphanage looked pretty well stocked, by Haitian standards, in some basic supplies,” he said. “Two American missionary nurses offered there generous help, and some Haitian volunteers came to assist with logistics.”
The patient count grew as more people arrived outside the orphanage, desperately trying to get medical attention.
For the next three days, Dr. Vulcain, Dr. Pelissier and Dr. Gabriel worked around the clock doing splinting and casting, reducing dislocation of limbs, suturing and cleaning infected wounds and open fractures, providing oral pain medication as needed,…….the injury list was long. The team worked desperately to save limbs of those with severe crush injuries where they could, but found it necessary to perform two amputations.
“Our team was, by luck, highly complementary and just after a couple of hours we were working effectively and efficiently focusing on the goal of helping our unfortunate brothers and sisters,” Dr. Vulcain said, who is also the University of Miami’s faculty liaison and representative in Haiti for the Haiti Project.
The three doctors saw over 100 patients in their make-shift clinic within a three day period.
“We had no death of patients who made it to our facility,” Dr. Vulcain said. “My surgical training and experience that preceded my dedication to Family Medicine were definitely helpful in these particular circumstance.”
After visiting Leogane and helping a medical team of Haitian and Cuban doctors set up a medical clinic there, Dr. Vulcain returned to Miami for a week. He is now back in Haiti continuing to help his country.
You can read Dr. Vulcain’s full trip report on the AMHE site here.