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Local medical relief worker recounts experiences in disaster-torn Haiti
Brad Brewster (pictured second to right) assists in the care of a baby born by Cesarean section at the Gheskio Field Clinic near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. - photo by Photo courtesy of Brad Brewster
Brad Brewster is glad to be home. After spending two weeks in Haiti as part of an International Medical Surgical Response Team deployed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Turlock man is thankful for the everyday conveniences that he had taken for granted before his eye-opening trip.
“I went to go get a glass of water and lifted the faucet — for two weeks that was unheard of. Life-saving stuff comes out of a faucet in my house and it’s clean,” Brewster said.
“This is amazing.”
Despite Brewster’s new-found appreciation for the little luxuries in life, he said he would not hesitate to return to the disaster-strewn island of Haiti. While the conditions were horrible — sanitary services and electricity were non-existent in the 100 degree weather — Brewster felt that he and the entire medical team really made a difference. During his time at the Gheskio Field Clinic in Port-au-Prince, the respiratory therapist took care of approximately 200 patients a day.
“The high points were the babies and being able to save so many children, as part of a team effort. But it was hard seeing so many children die,” Brewster said.
He described the all-ages medical/surgical clinic at Gheskio as a pediatric intensive care unit, because the vast majority of patients they saw were children.
“The adult Haitians were neglectful of themselves, they wanted their kids to be seen first,” Brewster said.
Brewster delivered many babies at Gheskio, as did the entire medical team. If a baby needed to be delivered by Cesarean section, he said the medical team’s care of the newborn did not end at birth. Because there was no newborn intensive care unit or any extra workers, the medical team had to literally carry around the infants in the clinic until the mothers recovered from the surgical procedure. Brewster said someone was always taking care of a baby while he was there.
The clinic treated patients who were suffering from a variety of injuries and ailments from infected wounds to pneumonia. One 12-year-old boy, who came to the clinic with a cough and eventually degenerated into full respiratory failure, has an American movie star to thank for his survival, according to Brewster.
During one of his 12-hour shifts at Gheskio, Brewster said that Sean Penn, who was in Haiti with his newly-formed non-profit the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization, came by and asked if the clinic needed anything. Brewster said that after he did a double take and realized it was Penn asking, he replied that they were in desperate need of a pediatric ventilator and an X-ray machine. Twenty-four hours later, Penn returned to Gheskio with a state-of-the-art pediatric ventilator and digital X-ray machine. The medical team hooked the boy up to the ventilator and saw immediate positive results.
“Sean Penn saved his life,” Brewster said. “He would have died without that ventilator.”
Penn wasn’t the only celebrity to visit Gheskio while Brewster was there. Bill Clinton also came to the clinic. According to Brewster, the former president shook hands with all the relief workers and thanked them for being there. He also spent some time talking with patients.
While Brewster was impressed with Penn’s ability to get much-needed resources into the hands of medical professionals in a disaster zone and he appreciated Clinton’s recognition of their hard work, Brewster was most inspired by the Haitian people themselves.
“It was the picture of a war zone and devastation, but the people weren’t (devastated). They did not stop being resourceful to themselves. They were out there clearing rubble. They were out there having Sunday services,” Brewster said.
He was surprised by the Haitian peoples’ unending gratitude and generosity. Brewster said that if one Haitian was given a bottle of water, they would take a drink then pass it down to the next person. He said he never saw a patient hoard food or water.
“All you got was ‘Thank you,’ and they all seemed to know how to say thank you in English,” Brewster said.
It is believed that between 200,000 and 250,000 people are dead or missing due to the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked the island nation of Haiti on Jan. 12 and the subsequent aftershocks. The number of people displaced in the Port-au-Prince area is estimated at 700,000, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Health and Human Services medical teams have reported seeing more than 30,700 patients so far; they have performed 161 surgeries and delivered 40 babies. HHS currently has approximately 132 people deployed in Haiti to support relief efforts.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.