Shortly before closing time at the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation (SRHF) clinic, a family came rushing to the door for help. Their 4-year-old daughter had hit her head and was bleeding. A team of SRHF clinic staff and nurses who were visiting from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Mass General for Children (MGfC) came to the little girl and her family’s aid. One nurse calmed the girl by playing music on her phone while another cleaned the wound and prepared to close it with stitches. Another comforted the family who was scared and anxious for their daughter.
The next day, the girl and her family returned for a check-up. She and her family were delighted that the girl could go back to school despite her injury.
For the past 10 years, Sophie Bresnahan, RN, a nurse in the PICU at MGfC, has been volunteering at the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation health clinic in Saint Rock, Haiti, a rural town just outside the capital of Port-Au-Prince. This March, six other PICU nurses joined Bresnahan for her annual trip to work alongside Haitian nurses, doctors and dentists from the clinic.
For six days, Bresnahan and her fellow nurses triaged patients and assessed vital signs, shadowed clinic and community health workers and ventured out into the community in a mobile clinic van. Other PICU nurses who also volunteered included Julia Smalley, RN, Elizabeth Croll, RN, Kelsey Powers, RN, Cheri Boulanger, RN, Emily Letchfield, RN, and Kathy O’Gara, RN.
“It’s a more collaborative relationship we have with the Haitian providers. We are there to learn from one another and serve as a resource for whatever they need,” said Bresnahan, who got involved with the foundation through her family’s church in Milton, Mass. “At the clinic there, it’s different from the PICU because they care for patients of all ages and see conditions that aren’t as common in the United States, like scabies, worms or malnutrition, especially in children.”
After hearing Bresnahan’s stories from her various trips, Kathy O’Gara, RN, decided to volunteer as well. Upon her return home, her perspective on nursing forever changed. “The Haitian people and providers were all so endearing and grateful even though they have so little,” said O’Gara. “It was incredibly fulfilling to learn from each other and know that we made a difference in their lives and the lives of their patients. They appreciate the simple things and that’s refreshing.”
For Emily Letchfield, RN, taking medical care back to basics made the biggest difference. “In Haiti, everything is valuable because there is only so much. Here in the United States, we have a surplus of everything. it made me more aware of how much we waste,” said Letchfield. “It made me more appreciative of everything we have and reminded me that we should all be more thoughtful and conscious.”
Many of the PICU nurses are already planning to go back next year. “Once you go, you’re hooked,” said Letchfield. “It’s not just the medical care, but also the Haitian providers and the patients. They are incredibly kind and gracious, and they are grateful for everything you do for them.”