PORT-AU-PRINCE,Haiti—When Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, notified physician Orby Butcher of Shawnee around 7:30 p.m., Sun., Jan. 31 that Oklahoma had been asked to send a medical team to Haiti, he acted quickly.
By 10:30 a.m. the next day, Butcher had recruited an eight-person team of three physicians, a physician’s assistant, three nurses and an EMT and told Porter the mission was “a go.” The Oklahoma Disaster Relief Medical Reserve Corps was ready for action.
Although the final make-up of the team would change slightly—one nurse had to back out and an additional EMT was added—the team departed the following Saturday, Feb. 6 for the island of Hispaniola. It returned to Oklahoma Feb. 14 after treating almost 700 patients in Haiti.
The medical team organized by Butcher, a member of Shawnee, Immanuel, was led by physician William Fesler, a member of Bartlesville, First. Other team members included physician Randall Kemp, Seminole, First; physician assistant Marcus Sizemore, Barnsdall; LPNs Carolyn Fesler, Bartlesville, First, and Cheryl Burks, Okmulgee, First; and EMTs Eric Stock, pastor of Union City, First; and Bobby Lipscomb, director of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and a member of Tahlequah, First.
The Medical Reserve Corps is designed to bring together practicing and retired health care professionals from a diversity of fields, including physicians, nurses, hospital and public health workers, mental health experts and other medical professions. In addition, volunteers without a background in medical training are needed.
These professionals, working together with the non-medical volunteers, comprise the corps, which supplements existing “first responder” emergency systems.
The Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) consists of four separate Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) programs. Each program works together and with the medical Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Health care professionals and other citizens are recruited to help communities respond during disasters, emergencies and terrorist attacks. Volunteers also assist with public health initiatives, such as widespread immunization efforts during disease outbreak.
Butcher organized the BGCO’s unit, which has around 125 members, in 2006. The Haiti response was its first full-scale mission.
“It’s not a very economical way of doing medicine in terms of cause to effect, but the people in Haiti needed the kind of help that only Christians could give them,” Butcher said as he prepared to return home. “I don’t know how you could do it cheaper, and I’m still in favor of doing it. But, I’d like to find a better way.”
Butcher said the patients the Oklahoma team saw had ailments that were normally seen by physicians on a regular basis. The clinic was set up at The Baptist Spirit Church of Carrefour, located near the epicenter of the Jan. 12 earthquake.
“They probably were being treated, but the earthquake destroyed hospitals and clinics, so they couldn’t see their doctors,” he explained.
Common complaints the team encountered included hypertension, anxiety, hunger, acute bronchitis, dehydration, diarrhea, respiratory problems and eye irritations.
“Some of the young mothers were not getting enough food themselves to produce enough milk to nurse their babies,” Butcher said. “There were very few injuries from the earthquake itself, but the quake had magnified their anxiety level. They just needed a personal touch from a physician.”
Complicating the team’s mission was the fact that they had been told in making preparations to come to bring supplies to treat untreated and inadequately treated wounds and fractures.
Thus they had the wrong supplies initially. Mid-week, however, they found a source for the correct supplies they needed and worked a “trade” to adequately do their job.
They did do some minor surgeries, including removing some small tumors and cysts, and eventually treated a total of 677 patients.
Sharing the Gospel with each patient was an important part of their treatment as well, and at week’s end, 45 Haitians had indicated they had accepted Christ as their personal Savior.
“One man who was saved said his wife had been praying for him for 17 years since they had been married,” Sizemore said. “Another young lady I witnessed to did not make a decision at the time, but she took a tract with her. She returned later and asked to pray to receive the Lord.”
Pastor Libien Lorniska and his wife were very excited to host the clinic in the church. They had been living outside next to the building, which had been extensively damaged, sleeping on a mattress under a “roof” of sheets hung from ropes strung from trees.
Before the Oklahoma team left, they presented the church with gifts of sports equipment for the children. But, the best gift they left was a tent provided by volunteers from Alabama and an air mattress for the pastor and his family to set up and live in as they continue to minister to their flock.