Peer pressure led two local doctors overseas to help with Haitian earthquake relief, but UNC alumni Pat Guiteras and Frank Tew said they wouldn’t trade their experiences.
The February trip helped the doctors appreciate the lives they lead after noting how happy and hopeful the Haitians were, despite losing almost everything, they said.
“I’m 67 years old and not likely to change after this,” said Guiteras, a physician at Chapel Hill Family Medicine. “It reminded me of important things which hardly need to be said, like that people are much worse off than you are.”
They could not directly speak with their 30 Haitian patients, who were being treated in the Dominican Republic, due to the language barrier. But the doctors managed to dress wounds, avert major crises and connect with their patients.
“Every morning patients would often inquire how we were before we started,” Guiteras said. “They weren’t just passing the time of day. They really wanted to know.”
People in Chapel Hill continue to aid in the aftermath of Haiti’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Jan. 12, whether by admitting victims into hospitals or sending doctors overseas.
Three such victims came to UNC Hospitals for severe burn treatment in January and have since been released.
For victims who could not come to the states for aid, the doctors left on Feb. 14 for Jimani, Dominican Republic, after Guiteras’ daughter encouraged him to lend his medical training to those in need. He called his close friend Tew, a retired cardiologist. The two had met as students at UNC.
Using some of their basic medical training, the doctors often spent 12 hour days in an 80-by-40 feet tent, tending to pre and post operative patients.
Despite what they had lost, their Haitian patients were always trying to stay positive, Guiteras said.
The Dominican Republic’s willingness to accept victims from Haiti into their country impressed the doctors.
“They’re not wealthy, and yet they allowed these people to come over the border and get care,” Tew said. “I don’t know how our country would react if there was a major disaster in Mexico.”
Two locals would translate Creole, one of the official languages of Haiti, into Spanish. Guiteras would then translate the Spanish into English.
Despite the language barrier, the doctors were able to enjoy moments with their patients. At the nights the patients would join together and sing songs.
“I recognized a few hymns in Creole,” Tew said. “You don’t need to have much to have joy in your life, and you don’t need to have anything to have hope.”
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