Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership: March 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016


After swiftly downing half a cup of that fabulous Haitian coffee, we left the guest house at six am today. A smiling Jean Robert helped us load our suitcases and accompanied us to the airport. Moving through the Haitian airport is an exercise in multiple security checks. Present passport. Check bags.  Walk to next line.  Present passport.  Walk to next line.  Take off shoes belt hat purse.   Empty pockets. Collect things.  Walk upstairs to next line.  Present passport. Take off shoes belt hat purse.  Watch agent hand search your carry-on bag. Collect things.  Walk to jetway. Wait in line.  Board plane.  Switch seats w Drew so he can sit next to Maureen (we all did this at some point on the trip)

Arriving in Atlanta is the same process in reverse. By the time we went through customs, collected our bags, got our next boarding passes and re checked our bags it was noon and we were all feeling a bit "peckish". No longer satisfied with the trail mix and granola
bars we had eaten all week, we found a food court and had pizza, pita wraps, Mediterranean salad, hamburgers and a Strawberry mango smoothie (Alison)

We've been here 9 hours at this point, waiting on our final connection to Memphis.  A few have managed to get on standby for earlier flights.  But the rest of the faithful have spent the time calling loved ones, checking email, reading books and trying to ignore the constant chatter about DONALD TRUMP on the airport TV screens.  Is there anything else in the world's news worth talking about?
I have texted my friends back in Haiti to thank them for the wonderful week they made possible for us.  Their replies are full of love and gratitude.  
Susan and Alison (selfie)
Their friendship reminds me that there really is more in the world worth caring about than self centered political candidates who have never missed a meal, never known poverty or threats to their home, never felt want of any kind.

Drew in his element

Susan Nelson

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The last 48 hours have been incredibly busy, including climbing waterfalls
Alricka Hannah and Ruth at Saut D'Eau
lunch at Hotel Woze with a wonderful swim in the pool, shopping for metal art work in Village Noailles and then a THREE HOUR BUS RIDE through Port au Prince.  An inside view of Port au Prince night life, complete with RaRa band and the most incredible traffic you've ever seen.  Cars making 5 lanes out of two.  Cars driving on the sidewalk against traffic.  There's nothing quite like looking out the RIGHT side of the bus and seeing a car driving on the sidewalk next to you in the opposite direction.   Taps (brightly colored/painted trucks used as taxis) which are lit up at night like floats in a Mardi Gras parade, sliding past each other with inches to spare.  Sometimes not even that much space.  Motorcycles with goats tied on either side. MACK trucks stopped dead in the road, or piled 15 feet high with sacks of who knows what, and often people perched on top of that.   Our Haitian guide and driver said they  had never seen the traffic so congested.  The Kreyol word for traffic is blokiss, ("block-ees"), an apt term. 

There is much to say but it is 11:00 PM and we must leave the guest house tomorrow at 6 AM to catch our plane to Atlanta.  I hope to use the long layover to post some more stories.   
Until then may I say this has been one of the best weeks at St Vincent's.  The children are happy and healthy, they love Pere Fan Fan  and they are being fed 3 meals a day. They have clean water and clean dorms and bathrooms.    They have a new library stocked with books, donated by Brian and Susan Donnelly, by way of their friends in French Canada.   

Note the Canadian stamp

 I have a bunch of new friends on What's App, so I teased Pere Fan Fan he cannot let anything slip by because the children will tell me.  He laughed and agreed that the children, especially Dieumene, tell him what to do and give him a list every day.

So happy to see them doing so well.  It was hard to leave today, but as I have learned to say in Kreyol, "A la pwochen!".  Until next time.
Hand prints on the wall with children's names

Friday, March 11, 2016


Every time we pray the confession we say these words, asking forgiveness for things done and left undone.  Last day at St Vincent's is always full of regrets and hopes.
The  daily office reading this morning was from I Corinthians 13.  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I give away all my possessions and give my body to be burned, but have not love, I have gained nothing.  This  passage was read by Zara this morning, our OT from Fayetteville Arkansas, by way of England.  All of us listening, with the St Vincent's children on our hearts this morning, thinking of the one thousand things we wanted to do for them before we leave Haiti.  Knowing deep down that this is not possible.

Bergens is a boy with scoliosis who has one digit attached where his right arm should be.  He has no left arm  He is a beautiful and intelligent child who has won the heart of many a team member, including John Mutin and Sue Trzynka.  

Our therapists Ruth and Zara were concerned enough about this child that last night  I sent an email to Dr Beauvoir, who is a Haitian  orthopedist who works at St VIncent's once a week.  Dr Beauvoir dropped by today....that is the first amazing bit of story, that Dr Beauvoir, a successful orthopedic surgeon in Haiti, dropped by today in response to my email to examine this child.   He agrees that the boy needs major surgery and will see him in clinic next week, make xrays and send them to me.  Then we will begin the hard task of determining where this major surgery can be done.

Later this afternoon, Ruth and Zara were working with Bergens, trying to figure out how to design a prosthesis to help him use the small (and only) digit he has for an arm.  They have brought foam noodles (the kind you play with in swimming pools) and used them for all manner of purposes, including cushioning bars on wheelchairs, making supports for kids with poor trunk stability, and the like.  Ruth told me she heard this BANG BANG BANG across the room, and looking up she saw Bergens banging this 6 inch piece of foam noodle for all it was worth.  He had shoved his single digit into the central opening of the foam noodle and was banging it against the chair.  Ruth realized with a shock that he had designed his own prosthesis.  She placed a spoon into the other end of the noodle and VOILA he could now feed himself!  She put a paint brush in it and now he could paint.  Magnficent! For $1.99, Bergens has a working prosthesis.

At day's end we sat on the steps of St Vincent's and listened to Mackenson, Geraldo, Konbit and Reginald sing for us.  

Mackenson, Reginald and Geraldo

All the boys except Mackenson are blind; Geraldo and Mackenson played guitar.  Geraldo has a beautiful falsetto voice.  The boys are about 20 years old, handsome and tall, singing in four part harmony.  The team sat on the steps, surrounded (and covered) by children of all sizes.  The deaf children sat with us; I don't know how much they can hear but they enjoyed the music with everyone else.  Jan sat with a series of children, taking turns on her lap. 

Edie rested her head against Anne Boykin and I sat next to Marie Carmelle, my favorite place at St Vincent's.  

Susan and
Marie Carmelle

Anne and Edie

As I looked at the faces of the people I had seen in clinic during the week, I thought for the thousandth time that I bring such a little offering to these wonderful people, and yet they welcome me and my friends and team members with love and  music and kindness. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

So why are all the team members grinning?

Working for a week at a school for handicapped children in a poverty laden country like Haiti may not sound like a vacation to most people.  So why are all the team members grinning and laughing and telling stories about the fun they had all day? 

Anne standing next to St V students, all in uniform
Wednesday morning began with a church service at the school as soon as we arrived.  Drew read the gospel of Mark and preached, with on the spot translation into Kreyol by Pere Wiclen. 
Drew and Pere Wiclen
One of the older blind boys gave an impassioned prayer of praise, while Jean Robert and Professor Simeon (who is also blind) played the violin softly and Jimmy played the accordion.  How Great Thou Art, as beautiful in French as in English. Followed by Seek Ye First, a song which I have heard too many times before, but sounded fresh and beautiful when sung by Haitian children.  Alleluia!
I have learned over the years that it is as important for the team to play with the children as it is to run a medical clinic.  So we bring jump ropes, rubber balls, nail polish, bubbles, beads, and all manner of entertainment.
Anne Boykin skipping rope.
Yes, that's our St Mary's Cathedral DOK president skipping rope in the courtyard with the girls.  
Dieumene painted toenails on some of her friends (mind you, Dieumene has no arms) and the boys played soccer and dodgeball.  Alison described herself as  impromptu goalie, when a soccer ball suddenly bounced into the pharmacy, knocking over a few bottles of vitamins in the process.  Edie told me the highlight of her day was watching Dieumene paint someone else's toenails, using her feet.  Oh, and the privilege granted of feeding Dieumene some peanut butter crackers.  Dieumene has more dignity than most people I have met, and she grants her subjects rare privileges if we behave properly.  

Under the shade tree in the courtyard, I cherish the moments I can stand and feel the breeze (YES THERE WAS A COOL BREEZE TODAY) and watch the children playing.  There is something addicting about coming to St Vincent's over and over again, learning to know the children by name and seeing them grow up.  My friend Rochelle came to see me today and played her violin for us.  Rochelle is blind and I have known her for 8 years.  She completed school at St Vincent's and is now graduated from Port au Prince University with a communications degree. Today she gave me a thank you card, in which she wrote a message and signed her name.  How she does that with no sight, I do not know.  But I watched her do it.  

Tomorrow will be hard because it is our last day at the school; Saturday we will take a small day trip outside of Port au Prince to see some of the beautiful countryside.  I have already warned my team that they will leave St Vincent's feeling overwhelmed at all the things they wish they could have finished or done better.  That is the humbling part of our work here; there is no way we can accomplish all the tasks we think up in our heads.  I have come to learn that that is God's way.  If we could do everything we set our mind to do, why would we need God?  Why would we need each other?

Ti Pa Ti Pa

In Kreyol the saying goes.  Little step Little step.  Today we made another little step in the care of Sadrak, our patient with the congenital heart condition.  Dr Judy's worst fears were confirmed at St Damien's hospital today, and yet a series of miracles may lead to saving this child's life. 

After a typical 90 minute Haitian ride with 4 people in a truck cab designed for two (oh and did I mention the dozen or so kids who caught a ride in the back of the truck along the way), including a SHORTCUT over barely passable mud/gravel/pond filled "roads", we arrived at St Damien's Pediatric hospital.  We were greeted by the lovely and gracious Dr Pascale Yola, who ushered us to the emergency room where we waited for another 90 minutes, not sure if or when the doctor would see Sadrak. Hannah was with me and noticed a team of medical personnel walking by with scrubs that said AKRON MEDICAL CENTER.  We started talking and when we told them our story, of the boy from St Vincent's school with the heart condition, they asked us if we would like their cardiologist to see him.  He was scheduled to leave on a plane in less than an hour, but he had his portable ultrasound machine and could examine Sadrak.  Now that's a God thing if I ever saw one.  There were no available beds in the emergency room, so we plopped Sadrak onto a counter and the ultrasound was done.  Searching for a piece of paper, the cardiologist wrote down his findings, gave me his email address and left to catch his plane.

Dr Judy was right, the patient has tetralogy of fallot. This is a common birth condition which causes a major malformation of the heart, and is only correctable by surgery. Basically the heart is "backwards and upside down" and all the connecting tubes go in the wrong direction.  This makes it difficult for the child's body to get oxygen, which is why he can't run without getting out of breath.  The cardiologist explained that the child needs surgery as soon as possible in order to survive.  In the United States he would have had surgery at age one year or even less.  Sadrak is now 5 years old.  He has never seen a cardiologist because his family has no way to pay for medical care. 

Sadrak was then examined by a Haitian doctor and given a prescription for medication and an appointment in June to see the cardiologist again.  By the way, we just HAPPEN TO HAVE the medication he needs in our pharmacy.  Alison and I counted out the tablets this evening, cutting the pills in half to make the smaller dose for the child. The medication will stabilize his heart rhythm and at his next appointment they will begin making plans for surgery. He will likely need two surgeries to correct the condition..  
Returning to St Vincent's, we were thrilled to have this information and to have made a giant step forward. Sadrak was now "in the system", with a followup appointment and the promise of Dr Yola that a social worker from St Damien's hospital would contact the family to make sure they kept their followup appointment.   Yet we wondered how much this surgery would cost, and the family wanted to know how would they get the child back to St Damien's without their own car and without money for transportation.  So many barriers.

Later that evening, I spoke with Dr Pascale again.  Turns out, the consultation for today's visit costs only 150 gourdes.  That is the equivalent of about 3 US dollars.  Each visit to the hospital will be the same price. "And the surgery?" I trembled to ask.  "Oh, that.  The surgery is free." replied Dr Pascale.  "What?"  I  made her say it three times, because I couldnt believe her!  The team from Akron comes down 6-8 times a year, and they collaborate with the Haitian doctors to perform these life saving surgeries.  At no cost to the patients. 

I am still stunned at this news.  It really is true, that with God all things are possible. 

Mr Noel, our driver today, said something very nice on our way home.  He was complimenting me and my team on the care and time we devote to the children of St Vincent's.  He said the children are the "family Nelson", meaning that I care for them as my own family.  I was very touched at his kind words.  He is a man who has been at the school since before the earthquake; the kids call him "hero" because he rescued many of them from the rubble of the fallen building.  I am honored to have his respect. I realize it is the love and care that all of us have brought to this school, year after year, that has earned the respect of the Haitians who do the hard work of caring for these children day in and day out, long after the Americans have left.  To all my team members past and present, thank you for bringing your love and talents to St Vincent's.  The children are as sweet as ever and always ready to welcome you back into their family. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Superman and Susan in Haiti
 Check out Superman (John Mutin) and Susan ready to start the clinic at St Vincent's.  I named John Superman because he is everywhere all the time and can do anything in Haiti.  Find power connections where there are none.  Obtain clean water for the team all day long.  Find sick kids for me to see when we think we have seen all the kids already.  And tear up if a sick kid smiles at him. 

This sign greeted us today when we arrived.
As usual, we set up clinic on the outside stage, which is sheltered from the sun, mercifully.  Maureen checked in kids, Jan did their vital signs, and John taught Alricka to check hemoglobins on kids.  This means sticking their finger, which surprisingly makes only a few of them cry.  The last little girl clung to Edie Street through the entire process.  No, she did not want to be weighed.  No, she did not want her temperature taken.  And especially NO DO NOT STICK MY FINGER WITH THAT THING.  By the time Edie brought her into the library, where Dr Judy and I did our exams, the girl cried if anyone looked at her.  I did my best pediatrician tricks, playing with the stethoscope and the light to look in her ears, letting her touch it (NO THANK YOU.  SCREAM) and pretending to look in Edie's ears first.  She was not fooled.  To everyone's surprise, however, after sitting in Edie's lap for 20 minutes while I struggled to listen to her heart and lungs, she stopped crying.  Edie said it made her day to feel the child relax into her arms.  AND I finally got to listen to her lungs, which were clear.  Hooray!

Dr Judy examines a patient. Notice Dieumene helping the girl open her mouth.                   With her foot

On a serious note, Dr Judy saw a kid who we think has a serious heart condition.  He was sick last time Dr Judy was here a year ago, and is even sicker now.  Dr Judy has a connection here with St Damien's hospital, and she performed a miracle by getting the child an appointment TOMORROW with a cardiologist.   So Hannah and I will be taking the child to St Damien's for an evaluation.  Please pray that this child gets the care he needs, which will likely require surgery. Judy and I agree that if we get this one child taken care of, it will make the entire trip worth it.

A Passage through customs, then airconditioning

All arrived safely in Port au Prince airport, all bags collected, and Pere Fan Fan was there to greet us.  He had a police escort for us!  We went through customs, with inspection of about half of our bags.I think after so many bags the inspectors get tired of looking at rolls of paper towels, boxes of antacids, and personal clothing mixed in with all the vitamins!  The only casualty was one bottle of vitamins whose seal was broken.  Everything else got through and we were on our way.  I must say it was one of the most peaceful and uncomplicated entries into Port au Prince that we have had in recent trips.  

We are staying at a new guest house, Trinity Lodge.  Sienna and I have our own room, complete with AIRCONDITIONING and a fan.    It is blissfully cool tonight, and we had a quick meal of spaghetti shortly after our arrival, along with a bottle of our favorite Haitian beer, Prestige.  Janet O Flynn greeted us when we arrived, a nice surprise!  She is an occupational therapist who is working with the new PT/OT school in Leogane.  She came up to meet our team therapist Ruth Mulvany and her sister in law Zara Harris.  When I left them downstairs they were happily talking therapist shop talk, thinking about the work they will do tomorrow at St Vincent's.  There is a physical therapy clinic that runs daily; Ruth and Zara hope to spend the week there.  

Susan, Ruth and Zara on the bus
I have the student's records loaded into a database, thanks to a CBU nurse alum, Connie Noe.  I have been checking it tonight to see the names of students I particularly want to see tomorrow. Students with heart conditions, severe anemia, and so forth.  It is a big step forward to have medical records to guide us this trip.  Even with spotty wifi and the program kicking me out periodically, it is an improvement.

Looking forward to driving through the gates of St Vincents tomorrow, seeing all my friends and getting to work.  Thanks to all for prayers to get us safely here. 

Susan Nelson

Monday, March 7, 2016

Haiti team on their way

With the usual early AM flight out of Memphis, our medical team is now waiting in the Atlanta airport for our flight to  Port au Prince.  All the last minute texts and emails of the last week:  DO I NEED A PRESCRIPTION FOR CIPRO?  HOW MUCH MONEY DO I NEED TO TAKE?  DOES THE GUEST HOUSE HAVE LAUNDRY SERVICES?  have all been asked and answered.  Mostly my answers consisted of "I dont know" or "Dont worry about it, if you dont have something in your suitcase, another team member will have it".

My personal last minute Haiti jitters are about things like, "Will the physical therapist be able to meet Dr Beauvoir at the clinic?  Will all the medical supplies we ordered in Haiti be there when we arrive?  Will Pere Fan Fan meet us at the airport and help us through customs?  Will the french books I sent down with Pere Fan Fan be there at the school?

All the questions, anxieties, and hopes are now like the wind.  We can't control it, and we need to just let it be.  So many dedicated people travelling with me, hoping to share some of the love they have been given in their lives with the children we will spend a week with.

Please pray for us to be open to change, to last minute needs we didnt anticipate, to forbear one another in our shortcomings.  God has brought us all here and will bless our work in the limited time we have.

Thank you to all who support us at home and make it possible for us to go on these trips, especially those of us who go again and again.   A dedicated donor handed me $100 bucks last night after an evening church service, telling me "Do whatever you need to with this money".  He knows that I will find something that needs doing, and I take his love for the children with me, along with all the rest of you.

Susan Nelson


Over 180 people attended this sold out event!  People from 9 different episcopal parishes in Memphis were there to enjoy the fun and support this great cause.  Holy Apostles, Calvary, Grace St Luke's, St Mary's Cathedral, Emmanuel Church, St Philips, Holy Communion Church, St Andrews, and St Johns.  Bishop Johnson attended and bought a beautiful painting that used to adorn the home of Joe and Marjorie Fitzpatrick.  The couple loved Haiti and collected many paintings, sculptures and unique items during their many trips to Haiti.  Special thanks to the family for the generous donation of cherished artwork to further the mission of St Vincent's Center for Handicapped children.  Mimi Fitzpatrick Baker and  Carol Fitzpatrick Winstead were present at the benefit to see the magnificent results of their donation.  Also Mark L Fitzpatrick and Joe R Fitzpatrick Jr agreed to donate their parents' treasured items.

For photos, see #spring2016benefit
Also in attendance were Pere Frantz Cole, priest in charge of St Vincent's.  He spoke passionately about the children at the school and the impact our ministry has made in their lives over the years.  Rev David Boyd, immediate past Director of Development for the National Episcopal Church, and Vundla Sikhumbuzo, Director of Operations for Diocese of Haiti, were also honored guests.

Dr Jennifer Holbourn was an amazing and shameless auctioneer, and together with the proceeds from the silent auction as well as ticket sales, we raised $12,115.  That's a lot of vitamins!

Truly, it costs about $2000 for each medical team to purchase medical supplies for our week long trips.  The volunteers always pay their own way, so all funds will go directly to support the children.

Thank you to the planning team:  Claire Valine (our musician), Mimi and Tim Baker, Drew Woodruff (the heart and soul of our St Vincent's ministry), John Mutin ( set up all the tables singlehandedly) , Edie Street (in charge of the "young" helpers and runners at the event),Hilarie Dahlhauser (tickets, advance marketing),  Jenn Holbourn, Ruthie Lentz (got the wine donated! and ran the sales tables ), Adrian Holbourn (business manager, goodness knows we needed one of those!).

The event exceeded our wildest expectations.  Thank you to all who came and supported us and made it possible.

 Susan Nelson