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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, June 18, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Medical Team Members Return From Haiti Relief Effort

V.I. Medical Team Members Return From Haiti Relief Effort

Dr. Sara Smith (left) looks on as Nurse Michelle Shiel (right) receives a welcome-home hug. Four Virgin Islanders received a hero’s welcome late Monday afternoon on the tarmac at the St. Thomas Jet Center, complete with a bright blue Welcome Home banner and Belgian chocolates.
Though the homecoming was joyous, the last few days have been heart wrenching for the group, which has been caring for the wounded victims of Haiti’s earthquake.
Three of the four – Michele Baker, ground support and translator; Dr. Sara Smith; and nurse Michelle Shiel – were part of the 12-member V.I. Haitian Medical and Children’s Relief Trip, which left Saturday.
Dr. Adam Shapiro, who has been an integral part of the relief effort, piloted his own aircraft to Haiti to pick up the trio Monday morning.
The biggest grin of the welcoming committee was sported by Carmen Partridge, the driving force behind the barely five-day-old mission, which was pulled together in two days, with Shapiro’s help enlisting the medical community.
The trio, all young women, seemed remarkably refreshed. Following a round of hugs, handshakes, kisses, and a few tears, the three shared a bit of their experience.
Chief interpreter Michelle Baker, who also has family in Haiti, began to talk between tears, as she was hugged by fellow Haitian and V.I. resident Patrick Bayard. He confided, "I’ve known her since she was about this high," holding his hand a few feet from the ground.
"We started off at the airport, but we had to leave to go to the hospital in town," Baker said. "The U.N. said there were too many doctors at the airport field hospital.
"It was chaos the first night at the hospital. The hospital manager had died in the earthquake. You just jump in and start distributing meds and supplies. Everybody was proactive."
Nurse Michele Shiel, who works for Dr. Shapiro, echoed Baker’s words. The petite blonde nurse gestured with her hands, as if still there. "Wow," she said of her first impression, "There were hundreds sprawled on the grass, lined up outside the hospital grounds. We jumped in and did what we had to do."
It was ground-duty triage from the minute they walked into the hospital. Smith and Shiel agreed there wasn’t time to look at one patient at a time. "Three at once," Schiel said. "You couldn’t just treat one at a time."
She looked at Smith, as the two recounted their adventures, looking at one another as if they were still there. "We first had to determine who to treat, and who to send to the O.R.," said Smith, a tall, slender 34-year-old with a big smile. "There were so many, you didn’t have time to think what’s the best process.
"We had two operating rooms," she said. "We weren’t the only ones, there were teams from New York and Dallas, too."
In addition to Smith, who works on St. Thomas at the East End Clinic, the mission included three other doctors: orthopedists Brian Bacot and Julia Gardner, and obstetrician Henry Francis.
The women said the thing that stood out about the patients was their gratitude. "They would just say, ‘thank-you, merci, thank-you,’ — for anything … for looking at an X-ray," Smith said. "They were stoic; they didn’t even ask for pain meds, just thank-you so much."
The women took catnaps throughout the nights and lived on granola and high-calorie bars.
"By the last night," said Shiel, "I was able to walk down the hall without stepping over bodies. It had gotten a little more under control. By today we had become more organized. We did exactly as we had planned," said Shiel.
And as plans go, Monday morning added three Haitians to the population. "There was a code blue on the radio. First, there was a premature baby," Smith said, "and then there were twins." Did Smith deliver? "Oh no, the mothers did all the work by the time I got there," she said.
Although certainly an emotional journey, neither Smith nor Shiel seemed traumatized by the experience. In fact, they both said they would go back, and they likely will, as there is a nurse rotation in the process of being organized.
That said, Shiel said she had never witnessed anything of this magnitude. "I have worked in small villages in the Dominican Republic as a public health nurse," she said. "That can be something … but I have never seen anything like these injuries to compare, and these were poor villages I worked in."

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