Hospitaller Describes Haiti Mission as ‘Life-Changing’
Children singing, dancing and smiling. Every afternoon, child amputees, sick adults, volunteers and villagers would come together for a party. It was an unexpected scene for Drs. Luigi Castagna and Peter Azzopardi and Dr. Azzopardi’s wife Sisi, a Registered Nurse, who spent a week volunteering at a hospital in Haiti recently. “We became doctors because we want to help people. This was an excellent opportunity to do that,” says Dr. Castagna, a Pediatric Neurologist with TSH since 1992 and the Hospitaller of the Canadian Association of the Order of Malta, who has participated in several volunteer missions over the past two decades. “Despite the circumstances, the children were still children, wanting affection and wanting to play and sing and dance.”
Afternoon Dance Therapy “The people have an incredible spirit,” says Dr. Azzopardi. “It really made me thankful for what I have. Each day we had an afternoon party to help mobilize the kids and realized that sharing their good spirits helped motivate the adults. It became ‘afternoon dance therapy.’ It was incredible.” It was the Azzopardis’ first mission, an “eye opening” and “life changing” experience they say will not be their last. “Sisi and I had always wanted to do a mission and had talked about Haiti before the earthquake,” says Dr. Azzopardi, Chief of Pediatrics, who has been with TSH since 1989. “It is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and we wanted to be of help where it would have the most impact.” Organized through The Order of Malta and the CRUDEM Foundation, the trio worked at Hopital Sacre-Coeur in Milot, a northern Haitian town. Established 23 years ago, the 73-bed hospital provides care for the local community but recently set up tents to treat victims flown in from areas most severely impacted by the earthquake. Treating Serious Injury The trio’s work included treating victims of the quake who had lost limbs and suffered injuries as well as treating the hospital’s regular pediatric patients who suffered from conditions not normally seen in Canada including tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria, and elephantitis. But they also found themselves working outside their comfort zone in the ICU, treating adults. “The dynamics are different. Everyone bends over backwards to help each other whether it is their job or not,” says Dr. Castagna. “Locals came to help too, bathing and feeding patients, who are strangers.” The team worked long days and saw about 45 children with amputations, 25 in-patients and 35 children each day at the pediatric clinics. Many of the young patients had an impact on the doctors. One toddler had been found five days after the quake buried in the rubble with his dead parents. Each day, a 16-year-old boy from the village—a stranger to the child—would come to visit the child for several hours, even asking if he could adopt the orphaned boy. Everyone pitched in to help one another regardless of their own situation. “This experience will benefit our own practices here. The attitude sticks. It recharges you,” says Dr. Castagna. One of the greatest needs at the hospital is for volunteer physiotherapists. The hospital is now setting up a prosthesis lab and would also benefit from those with related experience.