Volunteer Work in Haiti After the Big Quake

By Vasu Malepati, MD, McMurray, PA

Editor’s Note: Vasu Malepati, an ear-nose-and-throat surgeon working from the Mon Valley Hospital, is a long-time resident of the Pittsburgh Metro area. After his medical degree from the Venkateswara Medical College in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, he reached the US over three decades ago. Malepati is medical missionary of sorts: He worked in the 2001 Indian earthquake relief efforts; spent three weeks in Sri Lanka after the tsunami in 2005 that swallowed nearly 200,000 people; and volunteered in Indonesia during the tsunami. He has treated needy patients in Honduras, Guatemala, British Guyana, and Vietnam. He participated in two separate medical missions to the Philippines, and conducted free clinics there performing surgery with his colleague Dr. Chito M. Crudo, a gastrointestinal and general surgeon at the Mon Valley Hospital.

Dr. Malepati attending to patients in Haiti.

In late January this year, an earthquake that geologists have been warning Haitian leaders for years, pretty much leveled Port-au-Prince, killing over 200,000 people, destroying the entire city and the island nation. The damages of the severe quake (measured at 7.0 on the Richter scale) were made worse by the criminally negligent building practices in Haiti, traceable to endemic corruption at every level in the country.

It was heart-wrenching to see men, women, and children waiting for hours to be seen by a doctor at the clinic. In the midst of the utter devastation, they were patient

In the weeks after the quake, with twelve men and women from across the US, I was in Haiti working towards alleviating the pain and suffering of the people of Port-au-Prince, the capital, to the extent we could. The twelve of us were from the Satyasai Medical Association International (SAI), which established a Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. We—five doctors, two nurses, and five nonmedical volunteers—spent five days treating over 1,500 patients in St. Angeles Church in a makeshift clinic.

It was heart-wrenching to see men, women, and children waiting for hours to be seen by a doctor at the clinic. In the midst of the utter devastation, they were patient and grateful for the help they were receiving, both medical and emotional. We treated medical emergencies as well as non life-threatening conditions such as hypertension and anxiety.

We stabilized patients needing further medical/surgical care and sent them to the International Medical Corps in downtown Port-au-Prince. We gave medications to sick families, and a volunteer from the SAI group cooked and served meals for the public. With my wife Dr. Durga Malepati, we provided free medical checkups and distributed clothing to children.

We at SAI group, joining the American Red Cross and St. Angeles Church, made arrangements for lodging, food, local transportation, and a translator from the local French dialect to English.

I have been to many places of natural disasters, but what I saw in Haiti was the worst and will never leave me. People were wandering the street looking for water and food. The damage was utterly devastating. I felt it was my responsibility to help people in any way I could.

Because of the dire need for medical attention and the gratitude of the Haitian people I saw, my experience in Haiti is one of the most satisfying mission trips for me.

There still is much to be done. They need medical care, emotional and financial support, and all kinds of assistance. They need our time. They need your time. The needs of the Haitian people are many, from medical care and housing to learning English and nutritional meals.

To find out how you can help, visit www.redcross.org or www.UNICEF.org, contact local church groups, or donate online. Medical professionals can also volunteer through International Medical Corps or a local volunteer organization near you.

I plan to return to Haiti to provide additional medical care and to follow up on the people I treated.

Many people have asked me about the motivation for me to go to places where Nature unleashes its fury. I can only recall the words of my Guru Sai Baba: “Helping hands are holier than praying lips.” I am also inspired by Mother Theresa’s Simple Path: “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”

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