WEB EXCLUSIVE: Alumni Doctors Reconnect While Offering Critical Care in Haiti
With their 30th reunion on the horizon, four physician members of the Swarthmore Class of ’83—JackGelman, Niloofer “Nee” Dalal, Sue Kost, and David “Paze” Pazer—reunited in Haiti—a region that remains distressed in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. From Jan. 19 to 26, they offered their medical expertise through Project Medishare, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Since 1994, the organization has provided medical training, equipment, and the chance for Haitian physicians and health professionals to work alongside American doctors.
In Port-au-Prince, the alumni were based at Bernard Mevs Hospital, founded by Project Medishare. It is the sole trauma and critical-care hospital in Haiti and was only partially functional immediately after the devastating 2010 earthquake. “It’s the only hospital that has pediatric ventilators,” said Kost, who specializes in pediatric emergency medicine in Wilmington, Del.
The absence of medical equipment Americans often take for granted was humbling, Kost added. For instance, the single CAT scan machine was housed in a nearby trailer. During his first trip, Gelman, a plastic surgeon from Illinois, operated on patients atop a wooden crate, often with no means of sterilization.
Many of the Haitian doctors “had the knowledge but [were lacking] the day-to-day equipment,” said Dalal, an anesthesiologist based in Atlanta, who went on the trip despite a torn ligament.
Gelman convinced Pazer, a primary-care doctor in Connecticut who also is his former Swarthmore roommate, to join them, along with Dalal. Dalal and Kost also are former roommates. Despite the years apart, “The instant we were together, there was a magical connection that is inexplicably comfortable,” Pazer said.
The four were all “bio/premed types” as undergraduates, explained Kost. Gelman proudly reported that of the 13 premed students he knew in the Class of 1983, “all 13 got into med school.”
All four alums described the graciousness of the Haitian patients they treated and the doctors they helped train. Pazer called the trip “one of the most remarkable events of my life.”
One memorable instance occurred when Pazer noticed that a patient’s wound, incurred in a motor vehicle accident, could be treated with a skin graft. Gelman taught one of the local surgeons to form a usable graft, shortening the healing period to weeks instead of months. There is now “the potential for this hospital to take wound care to a completely new level,” Pazer said.
Kost hopes other alumni will volunteer as a means of reuniting with College friends and colleagues.
This kind of trip “reboots me,” she said. Reflecting on his friends’ commitment to service, Gelman noted that that the “Swarthmore attitude [endures] years later.”