By Sgt. Aaron LeBlanc
GONAIVES, Haiti – Two U.S. Army surgeons currently taking part in Task Force Bon Voizen, a New Horizons Haiti 2011 humanitarian engineer and medical training exercise under the command of the Louisiana National Guard, shared their skills with Haitian physicians at St. Nicolas Hospital, in St. Marc, Haiti, May 19.
Both physicians, Col. Paul Phillips III, an orthopedic surgeon from Fredericksburg, Texas, and Col. Eric Romanucci a, colorectal surgeon from Niskayuna, N.Y. are members of the 94th Combat Support Hospital, an Army Reserve unit out of Seagoville, Texas.
While at St. Nicolas, Romanucci and Phillips shared their highly specialized skill sets with local resident doctors, spending time in the emergency room and the orthopedic ward.
“Compared to the civilian hospital that I visited in Afghanistan, this hospital is impressive,” Romanucci said upon the arrival of an ambulance to the door of the emergency room. “They have an ambulance, and the place is very clean. They’re really doing a lot with what is available.”
Both surgeons commented on the scarcity of medical specialists. According to one Haitian doctor on hand, there are a total of three neurosurgeons in the entire country, all of whom practice in Port-au-Prince. The challenges that result from this shortage are exacerbated by Haiti’s lack of enforced traffic laws.
According to one Haitian physician, severe car and motorcycle crashes occur frequently, generating untold numbers of brain injuries that are often beyond a Haitian hospital’s ability to properly treat.
Despite this, the medical professionals at St. Nicolas are doing what they can.
Pierre Woolley, a resident at the hospital, studied in the U.S. and France prior to returning to his native Haiti, and is acutely aware of the disparity between the resources available to Haitian doctors and those in the more developed world.
“It’s a different way of practicing medicine, but it’s still medicine. On the orthopedic ward, we are always in need of lots of plates, lots of screws. We must be very creative with what we have here,” Woolley said.
This pragmatic approach to medicine was not lost on the Army surgeons. Both Phillips and Romanucci have practiced medicine on the battlefield of Afghanistan, and are accustomed to working in austere conditions, with whatever is available.
“It isn’t always about meeting standards as they exist in the U.S. It’s about doing what you can with what you have,” said Phillips.
Task Force Bon Voizen, New Horizons Haiti 2011, is a Commander, U.S. Southern Command sponsored, U.S. Army South conducted, joint foreign military interaction/humanitarian exercise under the command of the Louisiana National Guard. Task Force Bon Voizen is deploying U.S. military engineers and medical professionals to Haiti for training and to provide humanitarian services. Task Force Bon Voizen will build a school, two medical clinics and a latrine facility, as well as staff three medical clinics and one dental clinic between April 28 and June 25 in the Artibonite Department.