Several area doctors and pharmacists are traveling to Haiti to help those affected by last week’s devastating earthquake.
Gerson and Heather Nozea have ties to both the local area and to Haiti. Gerson is originally from Haiti and still has family and friends there. Heather is from the local area. After she and Gerson married they moved to St. Louis.
The couple found out about the earthquake four hours after it happened. Heather’s grandfather had passed away and they were at the funeral home. She said when they got back to the car they had a lot of messages and phone calls asking if they had heard what happened. Immediately after they left visitation they bought a phone card to try to call family members. After two days of trying, they finally got through. Phone lines were jammed because of the devastation and people trying to make calls in and out of the country.
After watching the news Heather and Gerson decided they needed to do something to help his homeland. They began contacting agencies they knew needed help and it turned out a local medical team wanted to go and assist those in need.
Before moving to St. Louis ,Heather and Gerson attended church at The Bridge with Dr. John and Lisa Bird. The doctor and his wife have traveled throughout the world helping those who need medical treatment.
Dr. Bird said after the earthquake happened he and Lisa were watching the coverage on television. He said they have a heart for these things, and after a couple of days decided to go and help.
A group of about 10 area residents got together and decided to travel to Haiti with the help of Heather and Gerson. Going with them are Dr. Karl Killian; Erica Parks, a pharmacist at USA Drug; and Amanda Hotop from Perryville. Also going is Heather’s cousin, Dr. Matt Wicham, an optometrist. The group is meeting some other volunteers in Miami.
Gerson left Monday for Haiti and arrived in the Dominican Republic that evening. He is staying with some friends and family and is purchasing supplies that the local team of doctors will need.
Heather said the Dominican Republic is similar to the United States in that it has stores where people can purchase items in bulk. Gerson will be crossing into Haiti Wednesday morning.
The group is only able to take what they can fit into two 50-pound suitcases and a carry on bag. The group will be taking items that have been donated by local residents, hospitals, pharmacies and organizations. Many have also donated money to help them purchase items while there.
Dr. Bird said the group will fit personal items into a carry on bag and part of another suitcase with the rest of the available space used for medical supplies. They will take three days worth of clothing, their own food and water purifiers, a one person tent and some bedding and personal items.
The group plans on leaving Friday morning on an American Airlines flight to Miami. Dr. Bird said with the devastation in Haiti they are not changing their baggage allowances. So they are trying to pack all the items which have been donated.
Dr. Bird added when the United States was devastated by Hurricane Katrina people here realized that disasters can happen in a civilized area like the United States. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has no significant resources to help themselves.
Heather said she and her husband are used to the conditions in Haiti but they are not sure what to be prepared for when they arrive. They purchased a brand new water purifier similar to what missionaries use in third world countries. They will be able to purify up to 10,000 gallons of water and help the Haitians have clean drinking water. She said the reason they are taking their own food is because they don’t want to take food away from the Haitians who need it.
The group originally planned to sleep in Gerson’s mom’s front yard but the Haiti government is not allowing people to go back into their homes. So everyone is trying to find a place to stay. The government is only allowing people to stay in their yards until it is safe to go into their homes or buildings.
Gerson’s pastor at his former church offered to let them stay in the church.
Dr. Killian said he has been on other trips with the Birds but they have always been planned well in advance. This is the first trip he’s been on that was “spur of the moment”.
He said the group plans on being gone for about two weeks. They will do anything necessary up to minor surgeries. They can do pediatrics, adults, some trauma and whatever else they can do to help.
Dr. Bird said they will be carrying medical supplies to help other doctors in the area. They will also be treating people who have infections and infectious diseases, and be gearing toward eyes and ears, pediatric and adult treatment.
Dr. Wicham will be helping with treatment of eye injuries. Heather said he will be able to treat ocular traumas and foreign matter removals from the eyes. He has had a lot of medication and other items he needs donated.
Dr. Bird’s specialty is family practice but he has been working emergency medicine for nine years — acute medicine and trauma. The group will hopefully have a mobile clinic or shelter to work in.
While Dr. Bird and the rest of the group are only going to be in Haiti for a couple of weeks, Heather and Gerson may stay for a few months. She said it depends on the needs and what they can do to help. She can speak Creole, Haiti’s native language.
Heather and Gerson created an organization titled “Growing Hope For Haiti” to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of the people in Haiti. The website is growinghopeforhaiti.org.
They are not sure what the impact of the earthquake will do to their organization and the projects they are working on. They may take on more projects now because of the disaster. Heather added that a lot of services including schools have been destroyed and now there are a lot of orphans. Dr. Bird said the orphanages are filling up because parents and children have been separated because of the disaster.
Heather said she hopes people will continue to give. The needs are long term and the efforts for living and rebuilding will continue. Their organization will continue to work and raise money for Haiti.
She gave the example of Hurricane Katrina and said the United States rallied around those affected by the hurricane. Haiti doesn’t have that infrastructure. They need other countries to go and help them. If they don’t have that they will likely cease to exist.
She also said people are fleeing and traveling to other places and the whole country is devastated. Hospitals are at capacity.
Heather and Gerson are accepting donations through their website: growinghopeforhaiti.org. They accept online payments which they can then access from Haiti to purchase supplies. They also will be accepting checks through the mail. Someone will be depositing the money into a checking account they can access while working in Haiti.