When a massive earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, the video images of the horrifying destruction moved millions around the world to tears. Here in the Valley, the news also moved many physicians to take action and head to Haiti. Four of those doctors making the journey were David Beyda, Grant Padley, Ara Feinstein and Jonathan Hodgson.
When each of these doctors felt the desire to travel to Haiti and help, the first thing they had to figure out was which group to travel and work with. For Beyda and Feinstein, the decision was easy. Beyda, a clinical care physician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, also is medical director for Mission of Mercy, a nonprofit group that helps provide needy children in 22 countries, including Haiti, with physical and spiritual necessities. Beyda himself makes six-to-eight trips per year, and had just been to Haiti in November.
“When I heard about the earthquake, I assembled a team and we were there within four days,” he says.
Beyda and his team packed all of their own supplies, chartered a jet out of Miami with another organization and spent a week in the middle of Port-au-Prince working on trauma rescue and intervention. In that time, he estimates they helped more than 750 people.
Feinstein, who works in trauma surgery and critical care at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, traveled to Haiti with the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT), a group he’s been a member of for seven years. According to Feinstein, IMSuRT is the only federal disaster team with surgical capabilities. This was Feinstein’s first international deployment with the group, but he was well prepared.
“The team has several drills every year where we are required to set up the whole tent system and go through drills with the equipment,” he says. “We have to take a lot of courses and continue our education online.”
The IMSuRT team “showed up in Haiti as a full hospital,” Feinstein adds. Team members brought their own anesthesiologists, critical care nurses, equipment, food, water supply and all other necessities.
Hodgson, a neurologist at Gilbert Neurology, traveled to Haiti with a group from his church, which had done mission work in the Dominican Republic.
For Padley, an orthopedic surgeon with his own practice who also works at Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix, the decision on which group to work with was not as obvious. He ended up joining a team from Orlando, Fla., that had a specific need for his specialty.
“Once I saw (the disaster) unfolding, there was a big pull on my heart to go down there,” he says. “There was an urgent need, they were in need of someone with my specialty, I volunteered and it just came together.”
Unlike the others, this was Padley’s first mission, but it was something he had always wanted to do.
“Some people in my group had gone on missions before, but they all said this wasn’t like any mission they had been on,” he adds.
Padley spent his time performing orthopedic surgery at Haiti Adventist Hospital, where he dealt with a lack of air conditioning and swarms of flies. The resilience of his patients earned his admiration.
“They still had hope,” he says. “They had gratitude for us being there. They put trust in us.”
Beyda notes that the most challenging parts of emergency relief work are the upsetting psychological effects and emotions for all involved.
“It’s a horrific place to be,” he says. “You go down there with an open mind knowing you’re going to see horrific things.”
Hodgson says it was sometimes hard to comprehend “the suffering and devastation,” but adds that he also witnessed miracles.
“Over that week I was there, my (young) patients started to become children again,” he says. “It was really neat to see that change.”
For Feinstein, the challenges were more practical.
“It is a huge transition from doing surgery here, where I have everything available to me at all times, to in an environment where the things I need to care for patients may not be readily available,” he says. “It required some improvisation. Some things were repurposed.
“Now when I have an obstacle, I realize it’s OK. We can do all right without that one special piece of equipment or high-tech stuff.”
Despite their considerable skills and talents, the devastation in Haiti left all four doctors humbled.
“It’s not about us,” Beyda says. “It’s about what we offer others, as servants to those who are seeking help. We do the best we can. It’s not about being a hero, it’s about being a servant and doing what you can do.”