Hallmark nurses continue Haiti mission

“My immediate thought was, ‘Not Haiti,’” said Susan Prindeville, a nursing instructor at the Medford school. “It was personal. I would hear about earthquakes in the past and feel bad and send something. This, though, this was so different.”

Different because Prindeville and fellow nursing professor Barbara Moloney have been traveling back and forth to Haiti since 2008.

Through the Center for Rural Development of Milot (CRUDEM), a team of doctors and nurses spend a week at Hopital Sacre Coeur in the village of Milot teaching local health officials techniques in caring for patients and providing continuing education. The hospital, built 24 years ago, is located 75 miles from Port-au-Prince on the Northern coast of Haiti.

“Of all the places, with the population and fragile buildings, it could not have been worse,” said Moloney, who has been to Haiti six times. “Before it happened, I felt a glimmer of hope for Haiti. So much good was coming from that last mission. Of all the places, why Haiti?”

Moloney was in the car when she heard a 7.0 quake had hit the island nation on Jan. 12. She was sobbing and shaking by the time she got home.

“Just the horror of what people must’ve been feeling,” she said. “I immediately thought, “What can I do?’”

Moloney and Prindeville had just returned home on Jan. 9, having spent a week working with the nursing staff in Milot. They quickly learned the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Harold Previl, was missing, having gone to Port-au-Prince.

“His commitment to the project was almost tangible,” said Prindeville. “He attended every single nursing lecture. The staff paid attention to that. He got them fired up and involved.”

Previl survived the quake, much to Moloney and Prindeville’s relief.

On Jan. 23, Moloney hopped a plane back to Haiti. Although roadways were impassable near Port-au-Prince, they were fine in the north.

“The roads were as fine as they ever are,” Moloney said. “The area where the hospital is was not hit directly so there was minimal damage. When we got to Milot, it looked fine, but there were a lot more people.”

The same day of her arrival, Moloney found herself at a nearby soccer field as the U.S. military helicopters dropped off wounded patients from damaged areas.

“It was exciting to see the helicopters come in because I felt like I could do something,” Moloney said. “I felt like I was in M.A.S.H.”

Moloney slept on a cot in the nearby convent kitchen when she wasn’t working. A former dormitory set up for visiting medical staff had been converted into patient rooms and schools suddenly became hospital wards for the wounded.

“It wasn’t chaotic,” Moloney said of the makeshift hospital. “Everything was well organized.”

Moloney said in Haiti, families are responsible for the feeding and care of loved ones who are hospitalized. When people arrived from Port-au-Prince with no family, Moloney said Milot’s villagers often came to sit, bathe and feed those who were literally strangers.

“The teens in the village came and helped move patients,” Moloney said. “When you needed someone moved, they were suddenly there. It really was like M.A.S.H.”

Moloney first became involved with CRUDEM in January 2007, when a fellow professor approached her during a faculty Christmas party about providing educational material for nurses in Haiti.

“She came back and said it was a very well organized mission with a clear role,” Moloney said. “I always wanted to be more involved with international nursing, to provide a service where there’s need.”

In 2007, Moloney went for her first mission. Having spent eight years nursing in Ireland, she was ready for teaching in another country.

“I was impressed that the nursing staff was so interested in learning whatever we had to offer,” she said. “We lectured from 2-4 in the afternoon and then again from 7-9 at night. The lectures were well attended and people even came in on their days off. We had to keep finding bigger rooms.”

Prindeville came on board shortly after Moloney’s first trip. She remembers marching into her friend’s office, saying she was going and then leaving before she changed her mind.

“I was so nervous because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she said, of that first trip. “I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t expect I would be putting in a repeat performance, but I went back. Honestly, I can’t explain why. It’s just something you feel.”

Four trips have since ensued and Prindeville’s seen growth in the medical staff, despite often growing frustrated at having to repeatedly teach some techniques over and over. But there are always the breakthroughs, she said, and those make it worth the time and effort.

“I was teaching pain management and wound care,” Prindeville said. “There was one nurse there and she finally getting it. She was so excited, I started crying. It finally made a dent.”

Prindeville said the earthquake has mostly pushed the steps made in medical advancement in Haiti back. But because of the work by missionaries, Haitian medical staffers have the knowledge needed to deal with such a full-scale disaster.

“These are some of the most resilient people you have ever met,” Prindeville said. “They are so used to dealing with adversity. They are used to having nothing and surviving. If something like this happened to us, we would fall apart.”

Both Prindeville and Moloney will return to Haiti this month, bringing with them the knowledge to further push nursing in the country to the next level.

“Now that the immediate crisis has passed, it’s time to deal with infections,” Prindeville said. “There’s a lot of need for wound care and how to help them work into rehabilitation. I feel like this is what I teach. I was a little jealous of not going on the trip with Barbara, but at the time they needed ER nurses and I was OK with that.”

Moloney, who was on the fence about going, wants to return. She’s already been in contact with the staff via e-mail and telephone.

“I want to assist the Haitian nurses with mass casualty response and work with them in meeting their goals,” Moloney said. “They’re in need of at least 20 nurses a week, basic medical and surgical nursing. They need people to provide basic medical care.”

Both women say while one week may not seem like a lot of time, they point out that it’s been the consistency of seeing the same teams come every six months that has given the staff the support it needs.

“More work needs to be done,” Moloney said. “The last time I was there, we did basic life support. When there was a code, the Haitian nurses jumped in and provided the support needed. I was very excited to hear about that.”

For both, the news is heartening that these medical staffers were prepared to deal with such a large crisis and have handled themselves admirably. Prindeville counts herself lucky to have been part of the Haitian mission.

“To have been part of something bigger than myself has been such an honor,” she said. “It’s been a blessing to be so involved in this type of work. Barbara was the impetus behind me doing this and I’m really glad I did it.”

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