Doing a world of good during Haiti's crisis

by Barb Boose 3 Comments
On Jan. 12, a 7.0 earthquake devastated the tiny island country of Haiti, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. DMU alumni and students were among those who responded to the dire need for assistance. Here, we share some of their stories. If you were there, please share your story in the comments below.

Carrie Gosselink, D.P.M.’07
Went to a hospital in Milot, 75 miles north of Port-Au-Prince, with the University of Florida and Shands (where she is a resident) and CRUDEM, a health care outreach organization based in Milot.

On her week-long trip to Haiti – her third to the country – Carrie Gosselink spent 90 percent of her 16-hour days in an operating or procedure room at Hospital Sacre Coeur. She estimates she worked on about 40 cases during the week. She lost count of how many transmetatarsal amputations and ray re-sections she did.

She also operated on two ankles and an open lisfranc fracture. There were many wound and post-op infections to treat, too. Some of the biggest challenges Gosselink and her colleagues faced were language barriers and a lack of equipment like a C-arm in the operating room, negative pressure units and ventilators. The fact that some children arrived at the hospital without their parents presented issues. Also, amid the chaos, she says even finding patients she had triaged was logistically difficult.“The people of Haiti are almost universally endowed with a strength and quality of character that I rarely see in my daily work,” Gosselink says. “Many have endured great pain, loss and tragedy with heroic stoicism, and it is deeply rewarding to help when the need is so great.”

Brenda McGraw, M.H.A.’11
Went to Port-Au-Prince as a supervisory nurse specialist with the Federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

By day, Brenda McGraw is an R.N. and emergency management coordinator at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. From Jan. 23 to Feb. 3, she did outreach and community assessment as well as helped pediatric patients in Haiti. She provided follow-up care to many patients whose acute injuries had been treated. Her team saw injuries from falling debris, malnutrition, dehydration and fevers in infants they suspected were from malaria.

McGraw’s tips for getting involved in global health:

  • Check into the local, state and federal programs available or non-government organizations that may be seeking additional medical professionals. Working to help others in need provides a rewarding feeling as well as critically needed care. (Editor’s note: Visit for ideas and information.)
  • Do not go into any disaster situation to help “on your own.” Stick with a well-known, wellorganized group that plans ahead and is familiar with the country’s geography, customs, health risks, etc. Members of “rogue” groups become a burden on the system and place their safety and careers at risk.

Karl Disque, R.Ph., D.O.’07
Went to Port-Au-Prince for 10 days as part of a 20-member medical team from Rush University Medical Center.

“When you see these things happen, it really reveals character. Do you show compassion and love when you are tired, dirty, uncomfortable, unable to communicate and have no external gain? It is remarkable how many people here can say ‘yes’ to that. Not only the people I see that volunteer, but especially those who suffered terrific losses.” —Karl Disque, R.Ph., D.O.’07

A member of the Rush anesthesia team in Chicago, Karl Disque and his colleagues worked in Haiti to help with fractures, crush injuries, skin and wound care and a few emergency C-sections and general surgery emergencies. He provided care at CDTI, Adventis and General hospitals. The team treated up to 1,000 patients a day in the hospitals, refugee camps and makeshift clinics in tent cities. Professionally, he says the trip tested his troubleshooting abilities. Running out of wall oxygen during a case, working through power outages, and using just spinal anesthesia for a large open ischemic bowel and small bowel obstruction were just a few things that challenged him to be creative.

Rick Colwell, D.O.’03
Went to Port-Au-Prince through the Islamic Medical Association of North America.

As an emergency room attending at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City, IA, Rick Colwell is used to acting quickly. But as an experienced disaster relief traveler, he knew helping in Haiti the last week in January wouldn’t be easy.

This was Colwell’s third disaster relief trip; he also helped in Pakistan after an earthquake there in 2005 and in the Middle East’s Gaza Strip last year.

Colwell says helping in a disaster zone means a person often has to “wing it” and use whatever is available to improvise. In Haiti his team built a nebulizer machine out of an inhaler and a water bottle to aid a child in asthmatic crisis. As part of the IMANA group, he helped set up a hospital in an abandoned amusement park. He and his fellow volunteers provided a lot of primary care, such as treating urinary infections, hypertension, malaria, asthma and colds as well as providing wound care, casting and amputations.

  • 3 responses to "Doing a world of good during Haiti's crisis"

  • Richard Budensiek
    4:06 on May 18th, 2010
    Reply to Comment

    On April 23, I joined a team of a nurse and 5 other support personnel under a Non-Government Organization, World Hope International. Over 8 days, we held 5 clinics in tent cities, HIV clinics, and makeshift churches. Many of the patients we saw hadn’t had medical care since the earthquake. On Monday, we were joined by a internist from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Alfred Shwayhat
    17:25 on June 1st, 2010
    Reply to Comment

    I am a 1996 graduate of Des Moines University/COMS. In July, 2009 I was assigned as the Senior Medical Officer/Health Services Department Head for the USS CARL VINSON, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier that on 12 January 2010 departed from Norfolk, Virginia on a home port change to San Diego, California concurrent with a deployment around the Horn of South America. Immediately after departing Norfolk on 12 January we received reports of the Haitian earthquake disaster and were immediately diverted from our mission by the Pentagon to steam at top speed to Haiti to assist. Our aircraft carrier and sailors could and eventually would serve in several capacities including supply replenishment, provision of fresh water, logistics and MEDEVAC support. But in addition, the CARL VINSON also carried the only Level II medical/surgical treatment facility up to western standards available in theater in the early phase of the Haitian disaster relief efforts (subsequent named by the the Department of Defense as Operation Unified Response). Very early on, our mini hospital aboard the VINSON became the focal point of U.S. disaster relief efforts in Haiti and this was projected to 144 countries worldwide; our efforts were covered by all the major news networks and news journals and even included a brain trauma patient operated on by Dr. Sanjay Gupta aboard the VINSON. In all we provided 161.5 tons of food, 18 tons of medical supplies, 2200 sorties, 435 MEDEVACS, and 87,200 gallons of water directly to the Haitian people and their supported elements. My Medical Department functioned as a trauma center and while I have been trained and certified in internal medicine, endocrinology, and aerospace medicine, my role was primarily as an internist and overall supervisor of care in the facility and as adviser to the Strike Group Commander and the Commanding Officer of the VINSON. On 2 February, after 4 other casualty receiving platforms including the USNS COMFORT hospital ship were in place and in full support of O.U.R., we pulled up anchor and continued on with our deployment. My experience in Haiti is the third humanitarian assistance/disaster relief experience I have had in my Navy career and ranks as the most challenging yet most fulfilling of them all. The Haitian casualties we cared for and those to whom we provided supplies were extremely gracious and thankful. Thanks to DMU for my education and the opportunity to eventually serve in this capacity. For my medical education, it all started in Des Moines, Iowa!
    Best regards,
    Al Shwayhat

    • Barb Boose
      8:44 on August 18th, 2011
      Reply to Comment

      Dear Dr. Shwayhat: I would be greatly interested in hearing about your career and medical endeavors in the year+ that’s passed since your time in Haiti. What an amazing experience and contribution you and your colleagues gave to the Haitian people…but I’m guessing you’ve had additional adventures since. If you’re interested in sharing some with me, feel free to e-mail me at or call 515-271-1599. Many thanks and best wishes!

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