For the Mirror
When disaster strikes, most people cry or pray for those involved. Others send money - hoping it will be put to proper use. A few, however, dive right in, coming face to face with the victims - using their talents and compassion to help where needed.
Dr. Christine Pascual and nurse Lisa Stuart, both of Hollidaysburg, did just that this summer when they flew to Haiti to help people suffering from the aftermath of the earthquake in January.
(Courtesy photo) Dr. Christine Pascual of Hollidaysburg examines a young Haitian patient in a Cite Soleil clinic examination room. City Soleil is the largest ghetto of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
What they saw was complete destruction and devastation. What they experienced was hope.
"It was by far the worst devastation I had ever seen," Stuart said.
Many Haitians they treated were homeless, living in squalor without food and clean water. They were in desperate need of medical aid.
The needs of the people seemed insurmountable, but Pascual and Stuart put the situation into perspective.
"I feel hopeless knowing I'm only there for two weeks, how hopeless do these people feel every day?" Stuart asked.
The women were in Haiti from June 18 to July 3, but the desire to help began right after the earthquake occurred in Port-au-Prince.
Pascual and Stuart, members of Grace Bible Church in Hollidaysburg, knew they wanted to go on a medical missions trip to Haiti and inquired about joining a team organized by Samaritan's Purse.
The women thought of the national nonprofit group because their church already teams with its Operation Christmas Child, and they knew Samaritan's Purse also organized medical missions trips.
"Samaritan's Purse was the first place I looked. I made sure I went down with a group that did it with the right intentions and was a reputable group," Pascual said.
Being accepted as a volunteer for Samaritan's Purse is akin to filling out a job application, said Luke Roland, one of its representative.
"We have a coordinator that gets in contact with them. They do interviews and background checks," Roland said.
Once accepted as volunteers, a date for the medical mission trip was set.
While teams are in Haiti, Samaritan's Purse provides shelter, food, supplies and security, but volunteers purchased their own plane tickets. This is where Grace Bible came in.
"We just took up an offering and people in the church paid for most of the trip," said Shannon Krater, head of Grace Bible's missions committee.
Members of the community also provided medical supplies for the people of Haiti.
"We got an overwhelming response from the community. We had six extremely heavy suitcases we took. We brought so many supplies, they had to build a whole other set of shelves at the clinic," Pascual said.
Along with meeting physical needs, supporters did not forget the spiritual.
Grace Bible organized a 24-hour prayer schedule and people signed up to pray for Pascual and Stuart at 15-minute increments at the same time every day during the two-week trip.
"We bathed them in prayer. It really made the church feel like they were helping the situation in Haiti," Krater said.
In the Caribbean country, Pascual and Stuart worked in a mobile unit which traveled to villages and neighborhoods near Port-au-Prince.
"The word got out amongst the communities and people would come," Stuart said.
There was a screening process where people would explain what ailed them, which was everything from malaria to typhoid to severe malnutrition. Often young children would check in themselves, saying they didn't have anyone to care for them.
"People were just really sick," Stuart said.
"We were true primary care. We saw it all," Pascual said.
She told a heartbreaking story about a 3-year-old girl she treated who had an abscess on her neck.
"She had a high fever and was very lethargic," Pascual said.
The doctor needed to drain the abscess, but the conditions were unsanitary and the procedure was dangerous.
"We had one scalpel, which was sterile. We had pieces of gauze and some antibiotic. We did the best we could," Pascual said. "I had mixed feelings about it. Yes. I was able to treat the infection appropriately, but I'm not sure how she'll do."
Not being able to follow up with any of the patients was a frustration for the medical workers.
The second week Pascual, Stuart and their team worked at a freestanding clinic set up by Samaritan's Purse. There, they encountered equaling hopeless cases.
During the trip, Pascual and Stuart treated more than 1,000 people in conditions that were far from ideal. Supplies were limited and hundreds of people were extremely sick and lacking clean water and food.
At times, team members would give people food and water in private, because it was unsafe to give that kind of help openly and taking the chance of being swarmed. The food and water they gave had been designated for the me medical team.
"We would bring water for ourselves and most of the time we'd end up giving it away. The kids would come up and they were so thirsty and hungry. They were people, and they have a great need," Pascual said.
Despite the hardships the Haitians faced, Pascual and Stuart observed that the people never failed to show their gratitude and surprisingly their hopes were high and their faith was strong.
One woman came to the freestanding clinic and Pascual informed her she was pregnant. Instead of being scared or upset about her dire situation, the woman cried with pure joy at the hope of new life.
"We really had those people's souls in mind. Samaritan's Purse gave us the opportunity to pray with patients and people were very open to that," Pascual said.
"We thought maybe the Haitian people would be bitter at God. We found completely the opposite. They wanted us to help them work through this spiritually. They really worshipped God in an amazing way."
Faith in God helped Pascual and Stuart whose families awaited their return.
Pascual left behind her husband, Ed, her daughter, Rachel, 8 and her son, David, 6. Stuart left her husband, Michael, daughter Megan, 12, and son, Joshua, 9.
They stayed in touch through a laptop they had brought and often e-mailed and spoke with their families. Pascual also kept an online journal.
"It was the longest either of us have ever been away from our kids," Stuart said.
Both women said they want to return to Haiti, maybe with their families in a few years.
"It was difficult for us to see, but it's amazing how you can do so much with so little. You have to kind of put that in perspective," Stuart said. "At first I started to think what in the world am I going to do? How am I going to impact this? Then you see someone's face and realize you made a difference to them.
It's just one person at a time. I'm not going to change Haiti, but I can help one person at a time," she said.