HUNTINGTON — Medical missions are career highlights for the medical professionals and volunteers who set out on them.
It is medical care in its purest form, and often in one of the world's most impoverished nations. There are no bills, no bureaucracy, nothing between the patient and the much-needed care they would otherwise go without.
While Tri-State Medical Missions has since returned from another successful year serving Haiti, their ninth trip to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the 2019 installment is certainly one they'll never forget.
When the team of 28 local volunteers, mostly physicians and staff from Marshall Health and Cabell Huntington Hospital, landed in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 9, the nation's capital was already brewing with civil unrest. While it's constant to some degree, protests rapidly began flaring with calls from President Jovenel Moise to resign under allegations of corruption.
Those protests included setting up roadblocks and closing
businesses throughout the city of 1 million. Within a few days, the U.S. State Department had raised its travel advisory for Haiti from level two to level four — "do not travel."
However, the mission was not directly impacted by the protests at their clinic, hosted by the Double Harvest Project about 10 miles outside the city, which had about three operating rooms to work in. During the one-week visit, the team performed 58 surgeries and delivered three babies in relatively sheltered conditions.
The surgical team was specialized for women's health — including 26 hysterectomies and lumpectomies. One patient, a pregnant woman suffering from preeclampsia, was carried from the mountains by a team of 26 people over four hours to visit the clinic, recounted Dr. Jared Brownfield, an OB-GYN at Marshall Health.
"We felt completely safe when we were at the clinic," he said. "However, knowing we would have to return home with this escalating unrest, we had to start making plans."
Getting home would prove to be the hard part as the very realistic fear flights home would be canceled with the unrest. Stateside, calls where placed to Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., to push for keeping their Delta Airlines flight home on schedule for Saturday, Feb. 16. The clinic arranged for a police escort and armed guards to travel with the team through Port-au-Prince.
At 7 a.m. that Saturday, the team departed, crossing through more than a dozen former barricades while taking a looping detour to the airport, Brownfield added. The team arrived safely at the airport and were home that night.
"I feel like the trip went phenomenally well," Brownfield said. "We accomplished everything we sought to do and, given the circumstances down there, then some."
Tri-State Medical Missions is a local, faith-based nonprofit that organizes medical missions outside the U.S. for area physicians. They plan to return to Haiti for a 10th time next year.