Donor Spotlight: Dr. Tim and Cindy McCall from Cazenovia, New York

Donor-spotlight-2When I volunteered as an anesthesiologist at Hôpital Sacré Coeur, on short notice after the 2010 earthquake, I had no idea that the experience would have such a profound effect on me, and lead my wife and me to make further trips to Milot. I also didn’t realize it would lead me to hearing a 10-piece Haitian kompa band powered by a generator in a half–built house, to hike up and down the jungled hills of Milot with Sister Ann Crawley, or to get to know so many wonderful Haitians and volunteers.

The earthquake experience was obviously intense and overwhelming. The medical compound was crowded with volunteers, and I stayed in a three man tent with two roommates, pitched on the ground outside the dining area. Roosters and stray dogs scuffled around us at night. All day helicopters landed, carrying the severely wounded from Port-au-Prince and the USS Comfort. We worked long hours and saw all too clearly the devastation the Haitian people had experienced. During that week I was lucky to meet general surgeon Dr. Brendan Brady, a fellow upstate New Yorker, who with Dr. Charley Stackhouse had been volunteering at Sacré Coeur for years. Brendan asked me to join his surgical team, and I’ve returned to HSC as part of “Team Brady” for the past four years.

My wife Cindy, a writer and public library literacy coordinator, wrote an account of my 2010 Haitian mission for local newspapers and medical journals, which brought funding and attention to HSC. In 2012 she volunteered with “Team Brady,” doing home visits with Lisa Richards RN, helping Sr. Maureen with the hospital staff ESL program and working with Sr. Ann at the Family Nutrition Center. She also wrote articles for Bon Nouvèl highlighting the HSC community and Dr. Lovejoy’s newly opened Prosthetics Lab. It was an amazing experience to share something with her that meant so much to me.

Donor-spolight-1What makes me keep coming back to HSC? It has been gratifying – and a huge learning experience – to work at Sacré Coeur.

Using my medical skills in a Haitian hospital helps me understand the value of patience. Flexibility, adapting to using whatever medical supplies are at hand and adjusting to the different working style and the pace of hospital care in Haiti have all broadened my skills as a physician. When I return to my home base, Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, NY, I try to bring back to my medical practice what I’ve learned at HSC. I also try to bring Central New York resources and new medical volunteers to Milot. Crouse Hospital has donated thousands of dollars of medical supplies to Sacre Coeur. I was fortunate to have three new medical volunteers join “Team Brady” in 2013, after hearing my accounts of working in Haiti.

The satisfaction of being able to help others become part of HSC makes the trips to Milot very special.

Working in a different culture and medical environment is challenging. Our surgical team has learned that ‘our’ medical way is often not the right way in Haiti. Dr. Gerry Bernard, the Head of Surgery at HSC, had a post operative patient in whom he left a naso-gastric tube for a surgical procedure that wouldn’t require one in the US. When we asked why the tube was left in, he explained that without one the patient’s family would feed him, causing bowel dysfunction and risking further complications – a point we had not even considered. Patience and acceptance are necessary to work in Haiti. Given the resources in the US, it seems unthinkable that women with advanced breast cancer would have a mastectomy but not have access to life saving radiation and chemotherapy, yet we see it over and over on our volunteer trips.

In recent years, our surgical team has been able to get to know the people and geography of Milot better. Experiencing the richness of Haitian culture has become part of our HSC mission. We’ve attended performances by local band Bel Pos, bought embroidered linens and local art, and explored the roads and trails of Milot. Touring the Citadel and the grounds of Sans Souci Palace is an incredible experience, not only because of the magnificence of the monuments but also for the lessons in Haitian history. Making afternoon rounds with Sr. Ann in the mountains as she visits the neediest families brings us out of the hospital and closer to the daily lives of the Haitian people. As it happens our church, St. James, supports a school and parish twin, St. Ives in Thibeau, that I visit each year, a 20-minute drive through the beautiful Haitian countryside that usually includes a tour of the Clairin distillery located near the school.

I’ve received so much from volunteering for CRUDEM. You can’t help feeling grateful for all you have after visiting Haiti, and seeing the tough conditions Haitians endure with dignity and patience. One thing you carry home, you hope, is the ability to be more compassionate.

Donor-Spotlight-3The communion service Sr. Ann does every evening comes home with us too. Back in our usual workday routine, every night at 5 p.m. Cindy and I think of the chapel in the compound and the sense of peace and comfort that the communion service brings at the close of the day.

There are also children who have entered our hearts. At the Family Nutrition Center during Cindy’s stay in 2012, a very destitute family came to Sr. Ann’s attention when a malnourished little boy was brought in by another child. Eddy, as he’s now known, is one of seven children living with their grandmother high in the mountains. Food is scarce and life is desperate for these children.

Sr. Ann has been able to secure school fees for the children, and keeps us in touch as we help from afar. Plans for building the family a house are underway.

Every year when I return from HSC I hear the inevitable question from well-meaning people: “How are things in Haiti? Is it any better since the earthquake?” My response is this: “Haiti has a lot of problems. But Hôpital Sacré Coeur has accomplished a lot since the earthquake, and makes people’s lives in Milot better every year.”

My life and my faith have been enriched by my work in Haiti. I hope to have the opportunity to return to HSC for many years to come.