Stories from Haiti; The Medical Division: Carney staffer pitches in

Matt Casey finds it hard to describe his one-week experience treating earthquake victims in Haiti.

Matt Casey: Caritas Carney physician assistant and Dorchester resident Matt Casey, right,  is shown alongside Caritas Christi Health Care’s Dr. Mark Pearlmutter in the Haitian town of Milot last month.  Caritas Carney Hospital photo.Matt Casey: Caritas Carney physician assistant and Dorchester resident Matt Casey, right, is shown alongside Caritas Christi Health Care’s Dr. Mark Pearlmutter in the Haitian town of Milot last month. Caritas Carney Hospital photo.

“It was like trying to hold up a waterfall,” said Casey, a 48- year-old Melville Park resident who works as a physician assistant in general surgery at Caritas Carney Hospital. “It was so massive, it was just overwhelming.”

Casey, a Boston native who has lived in Dorchester for the last decade, volunteered to join one of several medical teams dispatched to Haiti by the archdiocesan-run health care system. Casey was part of a second wave of Caritas docs, nurses and other staff who hit the ground in Haiti on Jan. 22.

Casey and his Caritas colleagues worked out of Milot, a town in northern Haiti that was not damaged by the Jan. 12 earthquake. The team flew into Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, whose airfield has been an important conduit for relief aide in recent weeks.

The Caritas team joined scores of other health care professionals from around the world in staffing Hopital Sacré Coeur, which is run by a non-profit foundation. The hospital typically handles about 70 patients, but has become a round-the-clock, indoor and outdoor facility serving more than 300 critically hurt survivors.

“helicopters brought in victims from Port-au-Prince,” Casey told the Reporter. “They set up a makeshift helicopter pad at a soccer field near the hospital and used a small truck as an ambulance. We took over a school across the street as a makeshift hospital.”

Casey and his colleagues were lodged three to a room in a residence nearby. There was little time for sleep or food for the Americans, however.

“Mostly we handled orthopedic patinets, people with long bone injuires, crush injuries and many traumatic amputations,” said Casey. “We saw a lot of burn victims too.

“They used locals as interpreters,” he said. “I went on morning rounds with an interpreter. Each [victim] would have a one page chart in French from whatever clinic or health care facility they were transferred from in Port-au-Prince.”

The conditions of most people choppered into Milot was quite desparate, Casey said.

“There were a lot of infections, since already so much time had gone by before they had surgery,” said Casey. “We never stopped taking people in. They would just constantly take over more and more of the school area across the street and some people were just going into abandoned buildings. We had no where to send people and very few had family they could go to in the Milot area.”

In total, Caritas has already sent in about 20 staff members to assist in Milot and Casey says he would like to return in the subsequent trips that he is sure will be going back.

“We worked to the point of exhaustion, we didn’t sleep or eat well. And none of us feel good about it. I’m still depressed. When you walk away, the numbers [in need] are bigger, every time we turned around.”
Casey said the only bright spot was the spirit of the patients and local Haitians, who visited in groups each day to sing hymns for the injured. Mothers took turns caring for the many orphans in the pediatric wing.

“The patients were very grateful for the care,” said Casey. “They were very stoic and didn’t try to take more than they needed. No one stormed the doctors or nurses; everyone waited their turn. There’s a lot of camaraderie.”

“The only chance they have is if everyone helps out who can,” Casey said. “We will especially need physical therapists and nurses to go if they can. They need those people now – and they’ll need them for years to come.”