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In Haiti, USciences Alumni Care for Those Who Have Lost Everything

By Jenna Pizzi

students in Haiti

Gary Lewis BS’71 and Adriene Zook PharmD’11 counsel patients about their prescriptions at a clinic in Haiti.

Six years since a catastrophic, magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti, battering the island nation and its people, the access to healthcare hasn’t improved. Many who live in small villages without any regular doctor or medication to treat their long-term conditions.

Efforts led by a University of the Sciences graduate are working to change the poor circumstances and improve access to healthcare, even if progress is slow.

Gary Lewis BS’71, RPh, made his first medical mission trip to Haiti in March 2010, just two months after the deadly quake that left 1.5 million people homeless. Lewis recently returned from his 10th mission to the country, which he helped to organize through his church, First Baptist Church of Danville, PA.

“Each trip to Haiti has been different than the one before, and yes, I feel we are seeing differences being made.” said Lewis, who works as a clinical pharmacist in hematology and stem cell transplantation at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. 

Lewis brought along four other graduates from The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, who were volunteering in Haiti for the first time. Adriene Zook PharmD’11, Maggie Randazzo PharmD’11 and Deshaun Richards PharmD’03 said that although they were aware of the disaster and had done research on the country, they were shocked that so many people were without basic care for chronic problems like high blood pressure and diabetes.

students in haiti

Maggie Randazzo PharmD’11 (left) and Zook and pose for a photo inside one of the clinics in Haiti.

“Routine care and follow up appointments are not easily accessed, if available at all,” said Dr. Zook. “It was touching to see the faces of the Haitians when we were there showing that we cared and showing that we wanted to be there and help them.”

The team saw nearly 300 patients each day of the week-long trip in clinics assembled from whatever furniture happened to be in the location. Sometimes they set up the clinic outside with just a few tables and tarps hung from trees and other times it was inside a church. They traveled to small villages including Vallue, Petit Goave, and Deuxieme Plaine in Haiti’s southern peninsula.

Their pharmacy was whatever they could fit into a rolling suitcase and Dr. Randazzo said the team had to get creative, working with whatever they had to make it work for patients. For people who had trouble breathing and needed a spacer to take their inhaler, Dr. Randazzo said the group had to fashion spacers out of duct tape and a plastic cup.

student with child

Zook takes a few minutes to play with some children as the clinic work finishes up for the day.

“We take so much of what we have here in the United States for granted,” said Dr. Randazzo, who works as the pharmacy clinical coordinator at Shore Medical Center in New Jersey. “There is a CVS on every corner and 24/7 electricity in every hospital. In Haiti, we mixed oral suspensions for children with our own drinking water because there was no access to clean, running water at the clinical sites.”

In addition to providing medicine and acute care to the residents, Lewis said the missionaries are also doing health education and preventative care in the communities. Three years ago, Lewis and the team started applying fluoride varnish to the children’s teeth to protect them and hand out nutrition supplements and food to malnourished villagers and children.

Dr. Richards said the trip helped her re-center herself and reminded her of why she works as a pharmacist.

“For me, time in Haiti brought me back to the reason I pursued a career in healthcare -- to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare to patients, especially for underserved patient populations,” Dr. Richards said.

Deshaun Richards PharmD’03 (left) poses for a photo with Lewis.

Deshaun Richards PharmD’03 (left) poses for a photo with Lewis.

Dr. Zook, who works as a clinical pharmacist and diabetes educator at Geisinger Medication Therapy Management, said this experience helped her learn the importance of teamwork and collaboration.

“Our team members worked really well together and were able to do some pretty awesome things because of that team work. We were sometimes without the necessary supplies, but were able to use our resources to get creative in order to address the urgent needs of our patients,” said Dr. Zook.

The most difficult part of the trip was meeting patients who suffer with medical conditions that could be remedied with regular care. Dr. Randazzo said that while she found the mission trip fulfilling, she hopes that the Haitian government will take it upon itself to improve the care network for all residents, rather than continue to rely on charity care.

“We come in with our doctors and nurses and pharmacists and pharmaceuticals and give away care for free,” said Dr. Randazzo. “What incentive does the government in these places have to set up their own healthcare infrastructure? Why would they put money into healthcare when they know people will come down to provide it?”

Zook shows a patient how to use an inhaler.

Zook shows a patient how to use an inhaler.

Lewis said he and other missionaries are trying to train nurses in these villages, at least enough to give them the knowledge to provide basic care for residents over the long term. Lewis brought over nursing textbooks in French, the native language of Haiti, and supplies for the student nurses because even if the church were to provide financing for them to purchase supplies, they are not readily available.

“We had Haitian nurses working with us each of the five days and they were charged to continue to follow up with the patients that were seen,” said Lewis. “I feel we are seeing some improvement, at least in the areas we return to, but there is still much to be done.”

Lewis said he is already making arrangements for the next trip to Haiti in January.

“I feel that everyone who has gone on one of these trips has been impacted by it and wants to go back again when they can,” Lewis said. “Much of that is because the people that we see are so very appreciative of any and all help they are given. They are never demanding, but thankful.”

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