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Local Haiti Relief Effort Still Flying High

The latest Crazy Diamonds are (from left) EMT Lisle Evelyn, Drs. Catherine Colby and Kathleen Hunt, nurse Brandi Cook, with logician Chloe Beyer (front).Just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, with the five passengers safely seated inside the Cape Air Cessna 402, Carmen Partridge stuck her head in the door. "OK," she said to the assembled volunteers, "you are now all Crazy Diamonds."
And with those words, the 11th flight of the V.I. Haitian Medical and Children’s Relief Trip took off for earthquake-stricken Haiti, piloted by Anthony Thompson and bearing the last five of the 61 medical professionals the mission has carried since its inception Jan. 16.
"Crazy Diamonds," says Partridge, "are the professionals who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to help others in need. They work tirelessly in the worst of conditions, but they don’t complain. They come home, tired to the very last fiber of their being, and say ‘Thank-you.’ It is profound."
Also profound is Partridge’s gratitude for the Cape Air flights, which the airline is donating, including pilot and fuel. "With the scheduled flights, I can plan flights ahead of time. What an incredible gift." Since the mission began, Partridge has been dependent on the kindness of private airplane owners.
Though the mission overwhelmingly comprises Virgin Islanders, a few medical professionals from the states have come aboard. Wednesday’s flight included doctors Kathleen Hunt and Catherine Colby, from Chattanooga, Tenn.; Schneider Regional Medical Center surgical tech Brandi Cook; paramedic Lisle Evelyn, and ground logistics agent Chloe Beyer.
Partridge gives them last-minute instructions, with an emphasis on how to treat the Haitians at the hospital they will be working with. "Remember, these people have lost loved ones, homes, everything. They do things differently than we do. Try to help without being condescending. Remember, we’re serving them."
She told them, "Stay close to the aircraft after you get off. Our team will find you, but they may get held up by road conditions getting to the airport, but they’ll be there."
The Haitian ground contacts have been responsible for the operation’s smooth flow of supplies to the Community Hospital, which is their headquarters.
The volunteers listened carefully to Partridge’s cautions, but, to a person, they all expressed the simple desire to just help any way they can. Evelyn, a tall, husky fellow, said, "They are our neighbors. They are too close not to help. I’ve been helping people for 15 years. I love to help people, saving lives and the rapport that comes with it."
The Chattanooga doctors brought at least 50 boxes of medical supplies, along with at least 30 sets of crutches and 30 walkers, only a small amount of which was able to fit into the 465 pounds of cargo for Wednesday’s flight.
Partridge assigned Evelyn to keep a watch on supplies. "The supply area is the most important thing now. We need for the goods to be secure at all times. We’ve had some go out the back door, but I think it’s for families, but we need a tight watch."
Partridge said the operation is now in the sub-acute phase. "The acute phase is over," she said. "We’re down to seeing one or two patients a day we hadn’t seen before, as opposed to 1,000 new ones a day lined up outside."
Partridge said, "The needs are shifting, thanks to volunteers working 20-hour shifts. Originally the halls were strewn with bodies waiting for surgery. A piece of tape on their forehead marked their triage order OR1, OR2, etc. Limbs were being sacrificed to save lives. Gangrene was pervasive, and the next deadly infection, sepsis, was setting in. The whole facility was operating as a mass casualty emergency room."
She said now things are under control with six operating rooms and teams from all over the globe – Sweden, Korea, China — working alongside the Virgin Islanders.
Dave Waller, a tall, slender man with a preoccupied expression, is Partridge’s right hand. He has earned that expression. "Actually, I’m retired," said the former military officer, "but Waring, Carmen’s husband, put me to work."
Waller is in charge of EAPIS, or the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System, clearing all the aircraft paperwork through Customs and Immigration, a task he is singularly prepared for, having been in charge of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School ROTC program for 15 years.
Waller provided some amazing stats of the efforts as of Wednesday: 108 total personnel transported and nearly 8 tons of medical equipment, supplies and food delivered.
And there is plenty more at the Jet Center, where a willing cadre of volunteers sort through each day’s haul.
Kim Russell is the Haitian Relief volunteer coordinator. To donate, call or email her at 216-409-6962 or kmdrussell@gmail.com
Contributions may be left at the Jet Center across from Community Motors.
In addition to medical items, they are currently in need of food items, including high-quality food bars, trail mix, precooked spiral hams or tuna, or salmon in foil packs.
For a thorough list of what is needed, and a history of the mission, see www.usvihaitianrelief.org

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