MIDDLEBURY — Dr. Michael Kiernan is no stranger to Haiti, having made around 10 medical humanitarian visits to the Caribbean nation during the past 20 years.
But is with a sense of real urgency that Kiernan — a Weybridge resident and emergency room physician at Porter Hospital — is returning this week to the earthquake-ravaged nation to deliver his expertise and thousands of dollars of medical supplies.
“My hope is to bring these resources directly down there and observe them being put into place, so that every single dollar that is donated will be put to good use,” said Kiernan, who was scheduled to leave on Feb. 4 for a two-week trip to a hospital in northern Haiti. He has been working hard these past few weeks to raise $25,000 to gather medical supplies to accompany him on his trip. Porter Hospital has been assisting him in that endeavor.
It was during the 1980s that Kiernan first developed an interest in the nation of Haiti. Kiernan had been training with Dr. Ted Dubuque who, after recovering from a serious illness, had an epiphany.
“He took a look at his life and decided, ‘There’s got to be something more than this,’” Kiernan recalled.
That “something more” turned out to be a desire to extend humanitarian aid — specifically to the people of Haiti. Before long, he had established a small operating room in a town called Milot in northern Haiti, near the nation’s second-largest city, Cap Haitien.
Kiernan would become one of many medical professionals who would volunteer his services at the operating room, beginning in 1990. He most recently volunteered there 13 years ago.
But that rudimentary medical facility has evolved into a small hospital that has been treating patients in the aftermath of last month’s earthquake. The hospital, and Milot in general, were fortunately spared from the devastation.
Consequently, military officials are airlifting around 50 patients to Milot’s hospital, which was been expanded to a 300-bed trauma center with a rehab center attached. Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and the epicenter of the earthquake, is about a five-hour drive away (when the roads were intact).
U.S. medical volunteers are currently staffing Milot’s hospital; Kiernan will take his place alongside them. Accompanying him will be some precious cargo: badly needed medicines and related supplies to treat the scores of victims passing through the hospital.
The biggest supply needs, according to Kiernan: antibiotics, pain relievers, medications for anesthesia, shelter and water.
“I can assure anyone who pledges a dollar that I am going to make sure it reaches people in immediate need.” Kiernan said.
As the Addison Independent went to press, Kiernan said he had received some generous contributions, but was still chipping away at the $25,000 goal. Porter Hospital has agreed to sponsor this effort with the help of the community, Kiernan noted. Porter officials helped Kiernan gather the considerable medical supplies he brought with him on Thursday.
Kiernan arrives in Haiti at a moment when the type of care being dispensed is transitioning from massive trauma and crush injuries to post-operative recovery. That means injuries must be kept free of infection, he explained.
Keeping wounds clean has become a challenging task, given the lack of supplies and difficulty of the injured in getting to treatment.
“What was a fragile medical infrastructure has become even more fragile,” Kiernan said.
He was scheduled to fly from Burlington to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and from there to Cap Haitien. He was unsure what his accommodations would be in Milot.
“I know where I will be. There is security, safe water systems and food,” Kiernan said. “And I know that I will not be adding to the logistical burden.”
He knows the Haitian people are suffering, but is confident they will rebound. It is in their character, he said.
“The people have not only a warm and generous disposition, but they are incredibly tough and durable,” Kiernan said.
He saw the personification of that durability in a woman he recently saw, on television, pulled from the rubble six days after the quake hit.
“She emerged from the rubble singing,” Kiernan said, with a smile. “She was asked if she thought she would live, she said, ‘Live? Why not’ They are tough. They have endured the unendurable before. These are people whose ancestors were brought over in the holds of ships. They are the most resilient people you can imagine. They get up from surgery like they get a haircut and they walk back to work.”
Kiernan thanked his wife, Tawnya and their two daughters for holding down the fort while he is away. And he doesn’t expect this will be his last trip.
“This will be an ongoing thing,” Kiernan said.
Anyone wishing to contribute to Kiernan’s $25,000 goal should make checks payable to “Porter for Haiti,” and send them to Porter Hospital, 115 Porter Drive, Middlebury, VT 05753.