Oct 23, 2018
Every year when I come back to Guatemala, I am touched by the many ways God is using this staff and community to touch lives and how, collectively, we are learning from each other and growing in new ways. A great example of this was seen while working with JM. He is a young man that we were asked to make some equipment for because his mom had no way to keep him safe when he was upset. MJ is 8 and diagnosed with West Syndrome. He has frequent seizures, is unable to walk or talk, and has a sensory system that is frequently overloaded, resulting in agitation and, often, head banging. The therapy team at ASELSI (CAF) has built a great relationship with this family, earning their trust and respect. The staff has modeled to us how to look at the full person, not just the physical needs. They empathize with and understand the struggles of this family but can see and share in the love they have for this boy and see his potential. JM is making slow but steady physical progress. He can now sit independently and can calmly engage in a brief activity with his hands. They have discovered some things, such as music and rocking, that will briefly help him calm down when upset.
I can only imagine how hard it must be to see your son in distress so often to the point he bangs his head uncontrollably. The burden of knowing the only place he is most calm is in mom’s arms with his face close to hers, seeking her undivided attention, is difficult. Every time he has a seizure, he loses his appetite and becomes weaker. He can’t communicate his pains or needs as we do. How do you meet his needs with all life’s daily demands in a place that has little support and respect for those with a disability? The staff has shown this family the love God has for all individuals. That we are created for a unique purpose and are each valued is clearly demonstrated to all around him. This family has shown us what faith and resilience look like as they continue to persevere through the struggles. This is beautifully displayed by the way they advocate and seek out ways to meet their son’s needs, so he can reach his full potential. All this is being done despite the barriers and beliefs surrounding a person with a disability in a culture that is not very accepting and in an environment that does not make it easy to care for someone with special needs.
Together, we were able to take the information the family and CAF staff gave us to create a chair that would meet some of JM’s sensory needs. The goal was to create a safe place JM could be outside mom’s arms where he could enjoy and engage in his environment but that would keep him safe. It was neat to problem solve with other peers to come up with a plan and then watch the University of Texas Medical branch occupational and physical therapy students take that plan for a chair and bring it to life. It brought joy to see him sit calmly for nearly 25 minutes in his new chair while engaging some with his environment and to watch his mom’s face show hope and relief at the same time. We know this is just a small part of this family’s ongoing journey, but we are thankful we could be blessed by this boy that brought us together. He has taught us what we can do as a community and what really matters in life, all without speaking a word!
Dec 10, 2015
When I asked God what it is He wanted me to share about this year I felt Him ask what does it mean to be in my presence? What does it mean to get quiet, to be still, to stop talking and just sit with me? Those of you that know me know that I have a lot of energy and it is hard for me to be still. But this year God has slowed me down in ways I did not think possible. In fact at some points He literally knocked me to my knees and just quiet my heart to listen. In those moments God has been able to show me things and reveal himself to me in ways I could never imagine. All He needs is some of our undivided time. There is so much he can reveal to us when we are in a place to truly listen. Our days can easily be filled with total chaos as we hit the ground running with our to do list, our obligations and commitments for the day. It can be easy to say I don’t have time to be still there is just too much to do. I know I can be guilty of that. But in those moments when we make that time to just be present with an open heart God can take those to do lists and leave you with a much smaller list of what really matters. He can carry those burdens that take up so much of our energy. He can change our perspective so we can see situations differently through other eyes then our own. He can bring healing and joy into suffering and pain. He can show us truly where we need to be and what we are called to be doing. Only if we take the time to ask and time to wait for an answer. When was the last time you were still enough to listen to what God had to say?
When I got the call a few months ago and found out my dad had suddenly died in his sleep, my whole world got turned upside down. I was flooded with all sorts of emotions hurt, anger, numbness, disbelief, uncertainty but in that time God showed me myself broken and hurting laying at the feet of His son Jesus and as I laid there Jesus gently leaned forward and whispered do you know how much I love you? I ask you that same question today Do YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOU ARE LOVED BY OUR HEAVENLY FATHER ? Take my hand He said, lets keep walking this journey together. You just need to TRUST in me. I am that peace that passes all understanding. I don’t know about you but that is sometimes hard to wrap my head around, but that Love is so real. We are loved unconditionally beyond measure despite being unworthy. Can you feel that love? God wants to be part of everything we do because He is all we need to find our way. He has such great plans for each and every one of us when we surrender ourselves to Him and take the time to be in His presence and LISTEN.
That being said God continues to show me we don’t only need that vertical relationship with him but we also need community we need each other. None of us can do this alone, that is why we are called into relationship. But what does the body of Christ look like? How often do we stop and take the time to just be present with each other without thinking about the next place we need to go or thing we need to do. How often do we miss opportunities because it is not in our agenda or plan for the day. How often do we judge people or situations? Do we really see each other or are we just constantly in passing. One day I walked into our therapy gym in Haiti to get something before I went back to training in our adaptive workshop. When I entered the gym I looked over and saw this older gentleman sitting on our mat with a sad worn look on his face as everyone was busily working around him. I knew I needed to get back to the training but I did not see any of our staff working with this patient, so I went to ask him if he was there for therapy. He said he was and had just finished his last set of exercises. When I asked him how things were going he paused and then he started to get tears in his eyes. He then said he has been coming to therapy for a while since his stroke but is still not able to walk well and do the things he needs to do to provide for his family of 5. He said he did not see the point in doing these silly exercises since he was not much better. I asked him: Eski ou kwe tout bagay posib avek Jezi? Which means do you believe all things are possible with God He paused and whispered I think. I then said I don’t know what God has planned for you but I know he still has a purpose for your life. I told him I did not know what that purpose was but that if he was willing to keep coming I promised together we would keep working at helping figure that out so he can fulfill that purpose. That day he did not need therapy he just needed someone to listen. I will never forget when he turned to me and said what translates to “thank you for seeing me”. That made me stop and think how many times have I missed those moments to just listen and how many times that I too desired to be seen and heard. During this busy season lets try and slow down enough that we don’t miss those opportunities. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is your undivided attention.
In closing I want to remind each of you that you are loved, you are called, you are equipped, and you are needed to help advance the kingdom. What that looks like is different for each of us because we are gifted in different ways. But think about what God could do if we really truly believed that in our hearts. I feel like God is asking this morning how big is your faith? Where do you find your sense of security? What is it that you need to surrender to me, because I can carry that too. Why are you so afraid to do what I am asking you to do? Do you believe this love that I have for you because I can bring light into any darkness if you allow me into every part of your life. Come spend some time with me, and if you are really looking you can see me in others.
Apr 6, 2015
So thankful to be back in Haiti and for the lessons it continues to teach me. I returned with very mixed emotions, remembering how physically and emotionally drained I had felt when I last left. There was a strange anxiousness that I did not anticipate returning to a place that has completely captured my heart; but at the same time broken it. I think that it is in those moments that we are completely vulnerable that God is able to mold us the most and true growth occurs.
There is such a peace that comes from being in His presence and knowing I am right where He wants me to be even if at times it is hard. God is helping me learn to be still and to slow down and be present in the moment I am in. I realize how much I miss when I hurriedly try to get to the next thing I think or feel I should be doing. Isn’t that a battle we all struggle with -chasing after our never- ending to-do lists instead of just being present in the moment we are given? How often do we miss opportunities simply because we did not slow down enough to see them; or we only stopped to look from our own perspective. Wow God is showing me so much of what I was missing. I must say it has been humbling but also way cool to just let go trying to control and simply experience the little joys of each day, appreciating the challenges and way I am truly BLESSED.
In the clinic I look around and see a mom who was once going to give her severely disabled child away because she saw no other option. Now he is in a special needs class at a school where she works as a cook. She can now provide for her family and her son is in a loving and safe environment during the day while she works. She did not have to place him in an orphanage like so many. Though not all children have this opportunity, it has been incredible to see perceptions are being changed about the disabled. Our clinic is becoming a place where they can find love, respect and be seen for the unique gifts that they are. They can be challenged to reach their full potential. Life for a person with a disability is still a daily struggle here but I can see where God is changing hearts and families are finding hope and healing through the work that is being done here.
Though we almost daily have patients with outrageously high BP’s we also have examples of stroke patients that have returned to doing things independently and found purpose for their lives again. We have patients excited to exercise and loose weight so they can feel better and help prevent diabetes and strokes. We have stroke patients sharing their story to try and help others prevent this from happening to them. We are helping our patients learn they are accountable for taking care of their health and they can make a difference by the choices they make daily. There are still lots of barriers and lots of education to be done but slowly we are seeing lives that are being changed. It is pretty awesome to be one of those lives that God is changing through His unconditional love, faithfulness, grace and patience as I learn to walk with Him and my brothers and sisters He puts in my path.
Nov 15, 2014
Don’t we all seek and desire to have a purpose for our lives? Last week we had a 32 y/o patient come in who had a stroke delivering her third child and then subsequently had another stroke 4 months later. Unable to use her left side of the body she was forced to depend on others for everything. She could not even sit up to hold her baby. We were told she was found just soaked in urine laying in bed with an infected pressure sore to the bone on her back side just a month earlier. Thankfully, with medical care, the wound is healing and at the time of the evaluation she was starting to sit on her own and even walk with some support but there was such a sadness in her eyes. God had helped her through many dark and difficult days but in that moment we could sense her struggle and need for a purpose. When we asked what her goal was she said to be able to cook and help care for her family again.
The next week we went to her home for a visit. Walking along the small, narrow, uneven dirt path we realized what a chore it is just to get her out of the house. Her husband would have to carry her on his back down the path because it was not passable by wheelchair. She was excited to show us that in a week she was now able to sit up on her own and even managed to take on/off her jacket. Next we were able to show her an adaptive cutting board we had made using just a few nails and a piece of ply wood. The nails would help hold the fruit or vegetable so she could cut or peel them with one hand. Her face just lit up as she was able to take a monster carrot peel it and chop completely on her own. She said she was ready for a chicken next. Her smile was priceless but also the smiles on her children’s face as they watched their mom help do something she has not been able to do in a long time. Washing clothes and making tortillas are next on the list. It brings such joy to step back and see how God works in this ministry. Sometimes all we do is help people believe in what they did not think was possible. We just need each other to help change our perspective when all we can see is the barriers. There is more then one way to peel a carrot!
Mar 16, 2014
What relief to know we have completed another successful adventure across Haiti. It is sometimes hard when asked the purpose of this run since there are so many aspects to an event like this. One, we do it to raise funds for the clinic here. Two, we do it to continue to help support the therapy program, the stroke prevention programs and the ongoing promotion of health and fitness in the communities we serve. Third, we do it to share the people, beauty and culture of Haiti with others that can't help but leave an impact on you.
Raymond, a Haitian that was working in our clinic, now has the opportunity to go to the best Rehab Technician program in country thanks to the funds raised from last year’s race. Raymond is a year into the three-year program and is top in his class. He stated he feels so thankful for this opportunity to continue to learn so that he can better serve people through therapy. Raymond has a love for therapy and especially children. It brings joy to watch him work with such passion and love for people with disabilities. It also has been amazing to see the impact the stroke prevention program has had on individuals in our community. People are starting to understand how to change their diet and are starting to realize the benefits of exercise. We have 2weight- loss and 2 exercise classes a week at the clinic and each class averages between 20-40 people a day. People are starting to understand the importance of taking medications when they have high blood pressure and they realize they just feel better when they do exercise. They now are bringing their friends to have their blood pressure checked and to join the classes. Three years ago this was not happening. We were seeing people 6-7 years post stroke and they did not even understand why strokes occur. Our ultimate goal is prevention, but in therapy now we are also seeing people a few weeks post stroke which is also allowing us to make a bigger impact on their recovery. People are realizing they can learn to walk, talk and do things for themselves after a stroke. This too is a different mentality then what we initially experienced several years ago. These programs are slowly making a difference in these communities. Last year we had 230 Haitians of all ages come to our community 2k. They actually paid to run, a concept that was foreign to many of them. Why would you run or do sport they would ask as we ran through the streets. Now they know running can help “give life”.
Another aspect of the race is it helps to support the tourism and Haitian economy. We are able to support local hotels, restaurants, and businesses. We have met some amazing people working to create places of interest for tourist to come and experience the beauty and culture Haiti has to offer. Reggie, our friend in Furcy, has a cool place Rustik- built entirely of recycled products. The rural mountain community came together to build this incredible tree house- like structure using bottles as lights, barrels as tables, tires as plant holders and an all wood structure. They are an example to the community of how you can recycle products to make sustainable structures. Winnie, our friend in the mountains, has a cabin people can stay in to experience the beautiful remaining cloud forest in Haiti. There are caves, waterfalls, and horse back riding available. Winnie and another dear friend, Jim, are working to preserve what is left of the forest and birds in the rural mountains of Seguin. They are working to educate and start programs to help teach people the importance of trees and caring for not abusing our environment. It is a hard concept to grasp when people are trying to live day to day and they need trees to cook and stay warm. We also have another friend named Rolf in Kabic Jacmel. He has a beautiful hotel where we can experience traditional Haitian food, take a dip in the blue Carribean waters, rest on the sandy beaches or take a trip into town and experience the unique art that makes Jacmel known.
The final aspect that probably touches me the most is to see the impact Haiti has on the individuals that come for this experience. For everyone, this experience is different but I have yet to find anyone who has not been impacted in some way. There is something about leaving your comfort zone and familiarity that makes you grow. Your concept of what really matters is challenged and you begin to see things differently. The last big pitch that we climb on day two is called “sole collector”. Originally it probably got that name for the shoe soles that you see along the rocky, windy, treacherous path. But that mountain pass has also been a place where I have felt people can lose or find themselves. It is a place surrounded by incredible beauty but also incredible poverty. It is a place where you can be physically/emotionally challenged as you are forced to precede on foot up a rocky, steep mountain pass where you are often asked by others to give them something -food, water or gifts. It is hard to know how best to show love in that moment. Where you are not just giving a hand out creating an all too familiar dependency that does not change the situation but you also don’t want to cling to the blessings/things we have been given as if they are truly ours. We are all called to serve the poor and what that looks like becomes confusing in those mountains. What is a hand out enabling verse a hand up coming alongside and helping empower look like? These are questions you are forced to ponder. It is also a place where you can be inspired by the resilience of the people that walk briskly by you carrying large bundles on their heads singing and enjoying conversation and laughter as they go about their daily routines. Where you see children innocently running barefoot with their sticks and wheel toys along the dirt trails full of life. In those moments it is hard to not be humbled and appreciate the simple things in life. What we truly need God supplies, but we often make things more complicated chasing after what we think we need to be happy.
I am so thankful that God is in control as He continues to show me what is possible when we put our trust and faith in Him. So many things did not go as we planned in preparing for this run but by God’s love, grace and protection we were all able to make the journey safely together and leave different then we came. To God alone I give the glory and praise as He continues to show us the way!
Mar 10, 2013
Friday morning I did an evaluation on a patient I can’t stop thinking about. Her name is Marie and she is 85 years old. She came walking up to our clinic with a large stick as her cane as she shuffled unsteadily along. She had a script from one of our doctors stating she has severe arthritis in multiple joints, difficulty seeing, high blood pressure and impaired balance secondary to dizziness. Unlike most of our patients she came alone without a family member.
I was greeted with a huge smile as I sat down to start to inquire how I can help my new friend. She had no idea what therapy is but was very eager to visit. Each simple question resulted in a story about something from the past and at times I found it difficult to follow as she kept trying to speak in French instead of Creole. I eventually needed to ask for help to translate her stories so I could get more information.
We take BP’s on all patients that come to therapy and her BP that morning was 180/100 which I can’t say is not all that uncommon here but still high enough to be concerned. She stated she had medications at home but had difficulty seeing which med was which. This was when I learned that she has no one to help her at home. This 85 year old who spent her life teaching for a government school and taking care of her family now has no one to look after her. Her husband has passed away and the rest of her family has moved to the states. She tells me her most difficult daily task is fetching water to bathe and wash clothes. She states the well is not too far but she needs to carry the bucket then once full she drags it with a rope back to her house. When I asked how she washes her clothes she stood up leaned forward and made the scrubbing motion. When I asked if she had blocks or a table at home to put the kevet (tub of water for washing clothes) on she said no she only has a small little chair that is difficult to get out of. She mentioned she has fallen a few times but was proud to say she gets her clothes washed.
I was in shock trying to process all that I was hearing. It was hard to not be angry thinking of this ladies family now living in the states, but doing nothing to help care for their grandmother that cared for them for so long. At the same time I was taken back by her resilience to overcome just simple daily tasks at her age. She had found a way to keep on living with peace in her heart. She did not once ask me for anything or show one sign of bitterness over the struggles she faces daily. She just simply was sharing her story with me. Here very often as a blan (white/foreigner) I am asked for food, money, you name it but not this lady she just simply was sharing her story as I continued to ask questions.
Clearly there is not much I can do to change the severe arthritis in my new friend’s frail joints, but I thought surely there has to be something we can do to help this lady with her daily activities. So I went into the storage closet and found one of our sturdier rolling walkers with a seat and basket in the front where she can port her water. When she saw it her face just lit up and she gave me the biggest kiss on the cheek. She was eager to take it for a spin and then needed a sit break on the seat. She couldn’t stop smiling until it came time to go. I asked if she came by moto and was surprised to hear she walked. She said she did not have money for a moto so she needed to walk. She was now afraid of walking down the street with her new walker over the rocks. She did not want to fall and she was use to her stick. I told her she just needed to practice and that the walker gives her more support to balance. I then agreed I would walk with her so she could practice. She was all excited for me to visit her home so she agreed to try the walker. Off we went Raymond our rehab tech, Marie and I down the street. Now I say street relatively more like dirt road with potholes, rocks and on this day since it rained the night before large mud puddles. But off she went pushing her walker along occasionally getting stuck on a rock or needing a little guidance and rest break. As the cars, motos, bikes, pigs, goats, and small children whizzed by she just kept on trucking not even phased. In my mind I was thinking how in the world did she manage to do this without getting hit on her own given her vision and poor balance. A mile and a half later we had reached her home.
Just to get in the yard there were multiple large piles of small rocks that are used to make cement. She required help navigating around this with here new set of wheels. Then we reached her house, which had two outside steps making it impossible for her to independently get her walker into her home. (This is something we hope to help fix with a ramp). A young lady greeted us to help open the door upon request and then left to go to the kitchen not to be seen again. I was excited hoping that this lady actually lived there and could provide some help for Marie. I learned this home belongs to a friend that primarily lives in the states but she has allowed Marie to live there. The young lady is the care provider of the home but unfortunately does not help Marie with anything. She will occasionally give her food but Marie never knows when this will be. This young lady does have a nice bed in the same room. When I went to look for Marie’s medicines in a container under her bed I discovered she is literally sleeping on the springs of an old bed frame just covered by a sheet. There was one small child size chair and an old freezer that is used as a table but Marie mentioned she does not use it since it is not hers. She stated she is very thankful for a place to live that she does not use anything that is not hers to risk loosing her ability to live in this home. She asks nothing of others but just graciously receives what food and occasional help that is given. All her daily activities of fetching water, washing clothes, taking a bath she does with difficulty but independently. She takes baths in a large bowel on the floor that she needs to sit in after she ports the water. She did state it is difficult for her to get on/off the ground to sit in the kevet. I was blown away trying to imagine my own grandmother getting on/off the floor.
I left Marie’s house with so many thoughts swirling around in my head. People in our country complain of our health care system, though dysfunctional we have a system. We have nursing homes, though they are not perfect; there are places for people that have no family or places to go. I don’t know of anyone in our country in their 80’s that would sit in a small floor basin to bath or need to walk 2 miles down a busy street with their walker to get to a doctors appointment. I do know of plenty including myself that have complained about the healthcare system and just the daily struggles of life when in actuality we are complaining more about inconveniences than anything. Marie does not even know when her next meal is going to come yet she does not complain or ask for a handout. This is not a lady that sat around all her life either and just relied on the government to take care of her. She worked hard for years educating the children of Haiti and providing for her own family that has now left her. Government programs don’t exist in any form in Haiti for the elderly or for those with a disability, yet they somehow find a way.
My heart was broken thinking of the challenges this lady has everyday just to take care of her basic needs and to think her family has just left her. At the same time I was so moved by what she has overcome to just survive. She does this without bitterness or complaining but rather acceptance and faith. She did not once ask me for anything but rather got concerned I was in the sun and kept trying to give me her new walker chair to sit in since she did not have another chair in her home to provide me. Wow this lady has nothing in the sense of things, and she daily has struggles for her basic needs, but she is filled with faith and joy knowing God provides and a better life is to come. I give thanks for Marie and the way she has touched my life. I continue to learn so much in my time here.
Mar 5, 2013
It is hard to believe that I have been back in Haiti now for 6 weeks. So much has happened in these 6 weeks, I figure it is time to sit still and write an update. It has been incredible to see patients and the progress so many have made. Many want to know has progress been made since the earthquake? Per reports Haiti still is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and you can still see many buildings, homes and lives that are in need of being rebuilt or healed. I can’t answer the question of where did all the money go that was given to Haiti after the earthquake. What I can say is I continue to see God doing some pretty AMAZING things in the lives of many Haitians I have had the honor of knowing in my two years here.
We ran into a patient that had a foot fracture, arm fractures and severe nerve damage to his arm needing an external fixator and several operations post earthquake. He now has full use of his arm and has two different construction jobs. He also recently got married with his first child on the way. We ran into another patient that lost a leg in the earthquake and really struggled in therapy with depression. One day in therapy he drew a picture of himself walking with a house in the background. He said one day “he would love to be able to walk again, have a job so he could provide for his family, and a house to live in.” The first few weeks we were here we went into a little village community with small houses built by Haitians that work for Fr. Joseph (the Italian priest that overseas this whole compound I live on). As we were standing there walked up this patient from his home with a smile on his face. He was telling us about the construction job he has with Fr. Joseph and was explaining that if he continues to make the $40 a month house payments for the next 5 years he will fully own his home. What a joyful sight that was to see.
I also got to see a former patient that is in her 30’s and had a stroke giving birth to her 4th child. She had difficulty walking and had no use of her right arm it was so badly subluxed when she first came in. She now can do her own laundry, cook, braid her own hair and care for her family. She continues to come to our stroke class to continue to gain strength. I got to see another stroke patient that had her second stroke actually at our clinic. I remember the day we ended up loading her in the car while she was having seizures to take her to the hospital. She is now back walking and talking better than ever before. I got to see one of the children that we built a wheelchair for come in as mom proudly had her show me she can now sit up on her own and hold her head upright without support. Mom said they no longer need the wheelchair at home and in therapy we are working towards walking with support in a walker. Mom returned the wheelchair and we were able to make a few adaptations so we could use it for another child with difficulty sitting and holding their head up. The mom is 7 mos pregnant so this chair was greatly appreciated. These are just a few of the AMAZING ways God is working through this ministry.
I continue to be overwhelmed by the resilience of the Haitian people. The way they come together and value community. The way they simply just keep on going even through the setbacks and challenges of life here. Last week I was going to the airport to look for a friend’s lost luggage. When we left we passed a gentleman who is a bilateral amputee pedaling away on this little arm bike down our street. I have seen him many times. Nothing in Haiti happens quickly so it took about two hours to get to the airport and wait for someone to check for the luggage and then drive back. This is only about a 15 mile trip but on mostly dirt and hectic streets full of potholes it can take a while. On the way back we passed the same gentleman and I asked our driver about him. He told me everyday he pedals his arm bike to the airport to work and then pedals home. It must take him 2.5-3 hours each way. I was blown away that this was the same guy I had seen many times at the airport on a little scooter helping people with luggage. Talk about resilience and just overcoming so many things we take for granted. I look forward to the day I can visit with this gentleman and hear more of his story.
So long story short I do think progress is being made and God is continuing to work in the lives of so many of His faithful servants here.There are still days where the constant needs can be overwhelming and my purpose here is unclear. This is usually when I find myself pushing my own agenda and I am quickly humbled. There are also times when it gets tiring to hear the words “bay mwen” (give me) but then I am reminded of the many who have inspired me by the way they have taken what they have been given and found joy out of their obstacles. I continue to learn so much about love, patience, community, relationships, and resilience from the people of Haiti. Thank you for your faithful support of the work God is doing here and the work God is doing in me. More updates to come on this year’s Ultra Marathon and Community Run.
Nov 18, 2012
I have now been in Guatemala for over four weeks and it has been an Amazing experience. God is showing me more and more each day what it means to be part of the Body of Christ. Last weekend as I sat in the ASELSI Bible School graduation attempting to sing worship music in Spanish I was reminded of how big Our God is that knows all languages and has an overwhelming love for all people across this world. I think sometimes it is easy to get stuck in our own culture and the way we think things should be. However my travels are showing me the world from a different perspective. God is at work everywhere in amazingly different ways . We have so much to learn from each other when we open our hearts, stop judging and put our faith entirely in the One that created us. It is incredible to see what can happen when we come together as the brother’s and sister’s we are called to be and care for each other.
This trip has shown me even more the value of teaching a man to fish rather than trying to be God’s answer to a problem. God can do so much more when we lay down our own agendas, get out of the way and follow His lead. For example last week we had big plans of trying to video some treatment sessions so we could create some instructional videos for future teachings of therapy techniques. We had the camera set up, the patients scheduled, a release form made, and a plan ready. Well, when the first patient came and we gave them a standard release we would do in our country it totally freaked the mom out. The language was too legal and she did not want to sign it. If we just simply ask can we take some pictures for future teachings everyone has been more than willing to agree. We then proceed to have many patients that did not come to therapy that day. We were unable to record as planned but instead had a blast working with the therapy workers showing them treatment techniques to do on the ball and scooter board. We were playing like kids and learning from each other. It was great fun. The day did not go as planned but the goal was achieved.
As I work more with Jennifer (my therapy friend here) I am learning more and more how to teach the therapy basics to locals that have the desire to learn and serve others in this way. God is giving me a heart to take this knowledge to other hard to reach places where there is currently nothing for people with disabilities. It is so exciting to teach this gift God has given to others and share His love in this way. It is so fun to watch as the therapy workers grasp a new concept and then step back and watch them work with a child. It is like watching a child take their first steps as they slowly gain their confidence and then just take off on their own. I feel so very blessed to be right where God has me and I am very excited about what plans God has for this next year. As always I thank each and every one of you for your love, prayers and faithful support of the work God is doing in me and through these wonderful ministries.
Apr 17, 2012
In the several months leading up to moving to Haiti I had for the most part stopped exercising. My days were filled with trying to wrap up the last 7 years in Texas, sell a house, leave a job, church, friends, family that I loved, and just prepare for the new adventure God had me on. It felt like I was being pulled in a million directions and there were just not enough hours in the day to stop and exercise.... or so I thought. For me exercise specifically running has always been an outlet and way to process all that is going on around me. It has been a way to challenge what is physically and mentally possible and a way for me to just get quite and enjoy a conversation with our creator while taking in the beauty around us.
When I moved to Haiti and met Jeanie she was equally full of energy and shared a similar passion and need for exercise however she was much faster. So I quickly had to start getting this old self back into shape if I was going to chase after her. We started doing some basic runs around the compound but quickly learned running the same loop around the same 5 acres was not going to get it. Part of the cool part of running is exploring your environment and here we were in a completely new country, where we didn’t speak the language, and knew very little about our surroundings but had this desire to just explore. Many told us it was unsafe and not smart as two white females to just go running off in Haiti. First of all many Haitians don’t understand the point of running just to run. I mean if you are chasing a chicken or goat that is one thing but to exercise just to exercise does not make a lot of sense to most. Secondly we understood you have to be smart and aware of your surroundings but you can’t live in fear. This was going to be our home for the next 15 months so it was time to start exploring a little bit at a time.
After learning some basic Creole and getting a very basic sense of our surroundings we slowly decided to venture off of our 5 acre compound and run around our neighborhood. For the first time we were out truly experiencing the culture, seeing how people lived, how they ported water, and the different ways they travelled. We were fully immersed without any barriers hearing them sing, watching them washing clothes in buckets, cooking in small pots over coal, carrying large objects on their heads, watching them dance, passing children as they chanted “blan”, watching the men play dominoes, smelling the burning trash, dodging the motos and tap taps, watching the farmers work with machetes, hearing them preach in church, being cut off by cows/goats/ or dogs and just meeting people where they were at. It was eye opening because every run was full of the unexpected, we never knew what we were going to encounter or where the run was going to take us. Sometimes it even took us into the homes of our patients we would pass in the street.
Our hearts and minds raced as we tried to process it all but this had become our outlet. It was the time in the day where we could just go, let our minds get lost in our new reality, and experience the complex beauty that was around us. It was this beauty that made me fall in love with Haiti. Its simplicity yet complexity. Its magical mountains and surreal beaches. Its people that despite their circumstances were not only surviving but in many ways happy. The people demonstrated such inner strength by the way they cared for their families and strangers with such resilience and grace despite the challenges of life in a place where it can be a struggle just to provide very basic needs. It was unlike any other place I had ever been. It challenged me, stretched me and made me question what really matters in life. I wanted others to be able to experience this side of Haiti and not the hopelessness and desperation that is shown in the news. So this is where the idea started in December when Jeanie asked wouldn’t it be great to run across Haiti and make a documentary to share with others the Haiti we have come to know and love. The school of Haiti that has in many ways changed our lives.
So on March 29th we set out a as group of 7 to run across Haiti. Five guys and two girls. Five of us that had spent over a year in Haiti and two that were fresh off the plane experiencing Haiti for the first time. We all came from very different backgrounds for different reasons but each shared the love of running and desire to share in this epic adventure. We also had with us Ben our photographer and John our videographer that were there to help document this journey.
Day one: The Urban Assault. We started at champ De Mars in Port au Prince across from a large tent community and fallen palace. This for me was the most challenging day secondary to the air quality and constant alertness you needed to be in dodging the tap taps, buses, motos or whatever else was coming your way at the time. Despite the traffic we manage to make our way through the busy streets of Port au Prince and Petonville before ending in the mountains of Kenscoff. The incline was gradual but constant as we climbed 5700ft and transverse 16.5 miles. The traffic was a challenge but it was nice to reach the mountains where the views were incredible and the air was crisp and clean. We were finally out of the dust and exhaust of the busy streets of the city. We enjoyed sharing stories the rest of the day of our run, ate a couple good meals and got some rest in preparation of the next days mountain climb, we knew it was going to be a challenge.
The highlight of day one was picking up a new teammate Astrel. He just so happen to be the fastest man in Haiti and was out for a run that morning. When he blew passed us Olaf went chasing after him to find out his story. It turns out he shares a love for running and after hearing what we planned to do over the next couple of days he decided he was up for the challenge. “Pagen pwablom” he would say meaning “don’t have problem”. Astrel was amazing he runs with such ease making even the toughest climb look effortless. He hardly ate or drank but was like a machine when it came to running. What an inspiration he was to all of us.
Day two the Magical Mountain. After trying to run all the inclines the first day I quickly learned from my teammates the value of walking the steep slopes to preserve some energy and allow muscles to work in a slightly different way. Day two consisted of winding up several thousand feet of steep, rocky, rolling trails high into the mountains of Seguin. The views were breathtaking and the women just amazing as they trucked up the winding mountain trails effortlessly with large bundles of fruits/vegetables perfectly balanced on their head. The trek at times was brutal making it difficult for even our ATV to make the climb without 4-W drive. Haitian 4-W drive equals manually pushing on foot and that we did as our ATV got stuck throughout the climb. We had locals jump in and lend us a hand and one even helped pull me from the tire as it was rolling back after taking a spill. Day 2 ended at Clayton’s school after 17.8 miles of running up over the pass, through what remains of the pine forest and then winding along single track trails. We were greeted with about 100 kids smiling faces. They sang us songs, danced and shared a wonderful meal with us. It was the perfect way to end this incredible day. Our bodies were tired but our souls were being filled with a new kind of energy. There is something about those mountains that breaks you but also puts you back together.
Day 3 the final descent to the surreal beaches of Caye, Jacmel. 18 miles of straight steady down hill trails and then another 7 miles of pounding it out on the hot pavement roads before crashing into the waves of the Caribbean. We all woke up with little aches and pains but were excited about finishing this AMAZING adventure. Knowing this was going to be a mile short of a marathon (which to that point was the most I had ever run) my strategy was to just take it slow and easy. Jeanie had been struggling with some stomach issues and was forced to slow down so there we were together running for the first time side by side step for step.
I certainly believe everything happens for a reason and found it very fitting that on this day like so many of our other Haitian experiences we were going to run through this together. 15 months prior we had come to Haiti not knowing each other or this beautiful culture that we had now grown such a love for. We had been challenged, inspired, humbled, and stretched in ways we did not think possible. As we came down the mountain we took in the views, engaged with the people, ran with the children and just tried to take in every minute. We knew quickly not only this run but our time in Haiti (or at least this chapter) was quickly coming to an end and we wanted to savor every moment we could. We had been changed by this school we call Haiti.
The guys had waited along the beach shoreline as we came into town. Together as we had started the 8 of us ran the last two miles. Such emotions whirled around inside: relief that we were almost there, sadness that this part of the journey was coming to an end, overwhelmed knowing we had all been changed but finding it hard to explain how, and excitement that we had completed such a great feat. Finally we reached our destination and were greeted by all our friends who had anxiously been waiting at Surf Haiti. It had been 3 days 59 miles transcending over 10,000 ft. I must say it felt good to hit that Carribean blue water and take it all in. We had completed the journey we had set out on but in so many ways it felt like it was just the start of a new journey. If this is something you think you are crazy enough to try I welcome you to join us next year for the Haiti Ultra Marathon January 2013. Details to follow……….
Mar 20, 2012
So today was a rough day. We went to the funeral of one of our young patients. Levonsline was a little girl about 6 y/o with physical and developmental delays that had been coming to therapy for about 6 mos. When she first started coming to therapy we she was not able to walk or talk and had significant behavioral outburst. She did not like to be touched but would happily crawl on the floor and play until you tried to get her to do something and then she would throw herself down on the ground and hit and scream. We knew there were significant behavioral and sensory concerns that needed to be addressed but all mom wanted her to do was to be able to walk so she could go to school. So that is what we decided to address despite thinking there were much greater concerns to address first.
I am still baffled but after 3 months or so of therapy Levonsline was able to walk. God had decided it was time because I myself would have never guessed it would have happen that quickly. It was not always a stable walk but she managed to get from point A to point B and had a smile on her face. She even had started to repeat a few words, engage with other children appropriately and sit and attend to a task for several minutes. This was huge because before she was always like a ping pong ball all over the place, unable to focus or attend let alone sit for any length of time. Her body was always in constant uncontrolled movement.
Last Wednesday her and her mom had showed up to therapy. She busted on into the gym with a big smile on her face looking to see what she could get into. Afterwards I remember watching her walk away over the rocks and gravel with ease thinking how AWESOME is that…. she once had no control of her body and is now navigating over the dirt and rocks with no problem. We do serve an AWESOME God.
Thursday morning her mom showed up and stated she almost died in the night. She did not know what was wrong but when Jeanie saw her she was not herself. It took Jeanie and her mom to hold her down while they put an IV in her arm before transporting her to the local Children’s Hospital. We got word the next morning that she had died of cholera. Something that is so preventable but has taken so many lives here.
This morning Jeanie and I set out to the Children’s Hospital to go to what we thought was the funeral service. I figured the hospital must do something for the families when they have little money. After waiting with 4 other family members for 2 hours we finally got shuttled outside into a tap tap. In the tap tap were two other people one small bag marked universal precautions and a cardboard box shaped like a small casket. I quickly realized we were transporting two small bodies with us to what I now assumed was the burial sight. I have used cardboard and duck tape to do a lot of things here in Haiti but the sight of the cardboard coffin will not quickly be forgotten. When we arrived to the old funeral ground outside PAP the 6 of us that knew Levonsline and the other two that must have known the child in the cardboard box filed out and stood by the gate. After a few minutes a gentleman who looked like he had been digging dirt walked past us out to the tap tap and threw the plastic bag with Levonsline and the cardboard box with the other child on his head and started off walking to the back of the cemetery. No one said anything but just followed. I will never forget the sound as the guy just dropped the two bodies to the ground as if they were a sack of potatoes and picked up his pick ax and started digging. Next to him another man had a shovel and was digging as well. In my mind I was trying to process what was happening as no one said anything. As I prayed I felt a peace knowing Levonsline is now in Heaven where she can walk and talk and have full control over her body. I believe God has a connection with these special children that come to teach us so much even though they can’t talk or process things as we do. I believe what was in that bag was not Levonsline as she is in Heaven, but it still hurt to see someone just disregard what was a person and throw them around as if they were nothing. After about 5 mins of watching these men dig without saying a word everyone began to leave.
Jeanie and I rode with the father on the moto home as he took us by Levonsline’s mom’s house. She had not attended what I guess you could call the funeral. There she sat in a dark room on a mattress gesturing for us to come sit. Between her tears she just kept repeating she is dead ,she is dead, she will not walk or have therapy again. She is completely finished. My heart broke because at this moment I questioned if her mom believes in God or heaven. Where do you find that peace when you don’t have God to believe in. Is it just over in her mind? I did not know how or what to say in the moment but instead just sat comforting and listening to her. Before leaving we asked her to come by the clinic next week and see us. Not sure if she has left the house since Levonsline’s death. It was one of those days where you know you are in the right place but have no idea why you are there. I am not sure what the lesson is in all of this but it is one day I know Jeanie and I will not forget.
Well we actually did pull it off our first St. Charles Clinic 2k Run but it truly was Haitian style. Often in life as hard as you try to plan things they just don’t go as expected, but usually the detour is full of lessons and unexpected blessings. Our 2K run prove to be no different. For months we have been working with our exercise group talking about the benefits of exercise and healthy nutrition. We have watched many who have never exercised let alone run in their life grow an appreciation for movement. It has been a time to come together, to laugh, to do what they often perceive as crazy movements and even get their heart rate up a bit. Most of our class had never even attempted running and to do for sport was an even more foreign concept. I mean if you were needing to run to chase say a chicken for dinner that was one thing but to run just to run does not make sense to most Haitians. By the time the race started we had not only convinced over 40 adults and 60 plus kids to run but they even paid to sign up. All adults paid equivalent to 50 cents each and all kids paid about 8 cents. We had to stop the registration a half hour after the race was planned to start so we could actually get started.
Now in the states when you sign up for a road race it is common knowledge that you will have a starting line, finish line and marked out course that you need to follow to complete the race. What is that saying you should never assume anything? Well despite our attempts of designing a course, marking with cones/arrows / people and having me on a bike leading the way we still only had one racer complete the whole thing in its entirety. After the first turn the game quickly changed from a runner following a course to spot the “blan” on the bike in the bright shirt and sprint to her no matter where you are. My first instinct was wait “no no” they are not doing it right this is not how races are suppose to be but really when I just let it go and gave in to what was happening I realized all our objectives were being met. People were running, getting exercise, having fun, dancing, and feeling good about what they accomplished.
The theme of the race was “Running to give Life”. We see so many strokes here in the clinic and many of the risk factors are difficult to control here. Our goal in working with this population is to help them see the things they can control such as monitoring their BP, taking meds if needed, eating healthy, and exercise. It was AWESOME to see so many here getting excited about exercise. We had participants of all ages some ran some walked. We even have a photo of nuns on the run. Yes, even they were getting into it.
The photo above I think captures the overall excitement of the day as everyone came together for a photo with his or her certificate for completing the race. Looking around after the race when we finally were able to take a deep breath and process the morning, we noticed not one single certificate was thrown on the ground. In Haiti this is significant because most just throw trash to the ground without thought. After soccer matches you can always find cups, wrappers and other papers on the ground everywhere. The certificates were just Xerox copies on regular paper but to them they had meaning. They had all paid what they could to participate, they had worked to accomplish a task and they had a reason to be proud.
I think there were lots of lessons in this. Often when we walk out on the streets Haitians young and old will ask us because we are white to “give them something”. Sometimes it is food, money, clothes, I have heard it all. My time here in Haiti has helped me learn that really what they need is for more of us to come along side them and empower them. Show them they don’t need a hand out they are smart, able and have more than they realize to offer. They all paid something (what they could) to participate in exercise to help their health and they had fun doing it. It was a great way to see a community of many different cultures (when you throw in all the volunteers) coming together in fellowship for a good cause. I hope and pray more things like this can be done to help not only encourage healthy living but also help prevent all the strokes we see on a day-to-day basis.
Feb 11, 2012
Well time certainly seems to be flying bye these days but lots of exciting things to report. If some of you have not heard from my facebook page Beetlove finally took her first steps two weeks ago.!!!! Now she is walking the full length of the gym with very minimal assist using a walker. You will have to check out the video under videos on my website. This is something doctors told her would not happen but she has persevered and is inspiring us all along the way. She still has a dislocated left hip and will need a surgery as she gets older, but for now she is not in pain and happy to be standing and taking steps. It has been AWESOME to watch this young lady that came to our clinic last April unable to talk or even sit up now talking, walking and even going to school. We serve an amazing God!
We are still diligently working on getting all the kiddos at a local orphanage seated properly in wheelchairs. This has been a project we have been working on for months but things are finally coming together. We are working with a group called AFYA that has 4 Haitian rehab techs and 7 Haitian carpenters working with them. We have been working with the rehab techs to teach them how to properly assess posture and place children with disabilities in good alignment. We also have been working with the carpenters to teach them how to build custom wood inserts then place foam and straps to help position the children. It is my prayer that this ministry will continue and lead to a small business for these Haitians. Adaptive equipment is much needed here and allows individuals with disabilities to have more independence, but you can’t just call up your local DME and order equipment. Everything is made by hand which takes time, but I have so enjoyed figuring out how to make something out of nothing. It has not always been successful but we have learned a lot along the way and now are getting an opportunity to share what has worked.
Our stroke and exercise classes continue to be packed every week. We plan to have our first 2 mile run/walk race in the neighborhood March 3rd. Our exercise class is all excited about it and up for the challenge. We have opened it up to any that want to come run or walk and hear more about how to eat healthy and prevent hypertension. We have even promised the therapist will give two minute massages to each finisher along with a certificate. It has been so fun to see how dedicated they are each week to coming together in fellowship to exercise. Last week one of the employees from the orphanage we volunteer at came up to me after class to tell me how good she feels now that she is exercising. I thought she was going to karate kick me right then and there.
Our patients have inspired us so Jeanie and I have a running challenge of our own to complete before we go. It is so sad that all the images you see from Haiti these days in the news are of collapsed buildings and sad desperate faces. Yes, there are images here that I know I will never forget but there are also so many beautiful things about Haiti, especially the people. When I think of Haiti I don’t think of desperation but of hope, resilience and beauty. This country has so many beautiful places and our Haitian brothers and sisters have so much to teach us. This is the Haiti that we have come to know and love and this is the Haiti we want to share with others.
Over our holiday break Jeanie mentioned to me in a phone conversation “wouldn’t it be cool to run across Haiti and do a documentary to share the beauty we have experience here.“ Well long story short this once abstract idea has turned into an epic run that will take place with 4 other friends. On March 28th we plan to set off from the destroyed palace (what would be like our white house) in Port au Prince and run 15 miles straight up into the mountains of Kenscoff. The next day we plan to continue our trek up the mountain that is only passable on foot or moto another 15 miles to Sequin (which is the second highest peak in the Caribbean). The third day we plan to finish with a 26 mile run down the mountain into the beach city of Caye Jacmel. We will have a videographer with us capturing the beauty of the trip and sharing stories of the people we meet along the way. We also plan to highlight many of the cool ministries that are doing things to help empower Haitians. Our hope is that in the future this ultra marathon could become a race that would attract more people to Haiti and help boost the eco tourism that is much needed to supply jobs. It is going to be a big challenge both physically and mentally but an amazing way to wrap up this experience here in Haiti. If this is something you would like to support both financially or prayerfully (we will need both) it will be greatly appreciated. All proceeds will go to Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis to help fund our clinic. You can find out more about the race and see pictures on our facebook page Run: Haiti Ultra Marathon.
Well I am getting tired just thinking about all we have coming up but as always thanks’ for all your love, prayers and support. May God continue to bless you and guide you on your journey.
Jan 31, 2012
Hard to believe it has been over a year now that I have been able to call Haiti my home. It is amazing to think of a place I knew nothing about that seemed so different to anything I have ever known can now feel so much like home. It has been an incredible year filled with many challenges, blessings and heart/mind opening experiences. I have met so many wonderful people and had a chance to actually sit and get to know them. It is amazing what can happen when we take the time to actually truly be in the presence of others and share our life stories. Though each of us have experienced very different paths we have so much to offer each other.
Everyone seems to want to know what the plan is for the next year and God is slowly giving me those details. I plan to be in Haiti through April and then move back to the states for at least a few months. I have committed to help work in a clinic in Richmond just for the summer to help a dear friend. I am excited to learn a new therapy technique and to be able to spend some time with some old friends and of course my family. I certainly do not feel this is the end of my travels overseas but this will be a time to recharge my batteries and see where God is leading me next. It is always an adventure when we follow His lead.
That being said we have a lot going on in the clinic. Two weeks ago my physical therapy student Sam arrived. We were able to work it out so he can do his 8 week clinical affiliation here. Have already put him to work learning how to wash his clothes by hand (good ADL skill) and helping me build a platform to attach to a walker for a stroke patient with a severe hemi paresis that is starting to walk. Never fails to amaze me what you can do with a little duck tape, PVC pipe, hardware and wood. Made a contact last week with an organization called AFYA and they have several Haitian rehab techs and carpenters that are open to being trained on all the adaptive equipment we have been making. Very excited at the thought of being able to share that info so they can learn to build and continue to help their community in a way that is greatly needed. Plus this could create a source of income for them. Jobs are so needed here.
We also have started a new stroke class as we continue to educate about ways to decrease the chances of having a stroke. Our patients continue to amaze us with how some are recovering but we continue to see several new stroke patients a week. We are having success in therapy returning patients to some level of independence but we all sense the need to focus on prevention as well. It is not going to change over night but this is something we feel passionate about. There are many factors we can’t change but we can educate about monitoring blood pressures, taking medications, eating healthy, and doing exercise. Jeanie has even been working with Hyam (or new rehab manager) on developing a cooking tips sheet to promote tips on how to eat healthy given the foods that are commonly available here. The patients seem to love the class and are helping each other out sharing tips and stories. It is in a lot of ways a support group as well. People helping people it’s what it is all about.
As always I thank each and every one of you for your prayers and support. God continues to do so many cool things through this ministry. I am excited to see what He has planned for this next year. A new year always gives us time to reflect. Take time to enjoy the amazing beauty and people God has placed around you. I am certainly thankful for all the people in my life and this amazing journey God has me on. Blessings and love to all of you!
Nov 12, 2011
Since moving to Haiti I have learned to expect the unexpected because you never know what the day is going to bring. Jeanie and I celebrated 9 months here in Haiti by becoming temporary foster parents to a child that was abandon in our clinic several weeks ago. (Don’t worry the little one has found a home in an orphanage with some caring sisters). Carlos (we later named him) was left on the small couch just outside our clinic with no information just a blanket and extra diaper. He looked to be around 8, did not speak, walk or do much movement at all. He was very thin and somewhat malnourished but could sit on his own and appeared to have some autistic like qualities. It was easy at first to think who could possibly abandon their own child but after more thought I realize that I have never walked a day in a moms shoes. Or was it even his mom that brought him that day?
The more time we spent with Carlos we began to wonder what life was like for him. It took us over an hour to feed him and he could only have somewhat thick liquids. Everything else looked like it was heading straight to the lungs or was coming right back out at us. His mom probably had a much better way of feeding because after all she had kept him alive all these years. Why did Carlos never cry or seem to have difficulty transitioning to a completely new environment and unfamiliar people? Had it just become too overwhelming for his mom? Was she unable to work and provide for the family because she needed to look after Carlos during the day? That is a common struggle we hear from many of our single moms with children with disabilities. I often wonder what would I do in that situation. You are a single mom with several kids including one with significant disabilities living in a place that has absolutely no support for people with disabilities and no Medicaid or government help. In fact children with disabilities are often hidden away from society out of fear that they can give what they have to other children or that a curse has been placed on them. There are no disability protection acts and nothing in society is wheelchair accessible or made for people with a disability. No form of public transportation that someone in a wheelchair can access, and only the really wealthy have access to cars. What kind of future do they really have??
There is only one special needs school that I am aware of in the whole country. After all less then 50% of all children get to go to school here. I think of in my own country where everyone gets to go to school including the disabled and yet we have many that skip school or throw away the opportunity without putting forth any kind of effort to learn. Here there are kids that can only hope for the opportunity to go to school. Some families only have the ability to send one child so often it is the boys that get to go to school. I have also spoken to some children that were going to school and then had to stop when they could no longer afford it.
We did celebrate a victory this past month when Beetlove a child I previously blogged about got to go to the school on the compound. A child going to school in a wheelchair here is a rare thing but that she did. It took a team effort and a very passionate caring Haitian teacher to allow this little miracle to happen. Beetlove finally has a purpose to her day and it has carried over into her motivation for therapy. She is now transferring herself in and out of her wheelchair and independent in most mat mobility and transitions. She even attempts to push her own wheelchair short distances and stood for the first time in a walker with support and knee immobilizers the other day. This is the first time she has stood outside a stander since her hip dislocation and cast placement. You certainly have to celebrate the small victories or you can be overwhelmed at times by the challenges of life here.
My whole life I have been around children with disabilities My mom at a young age would take us to work with her or help watch children when families needed a little respite care. I have always been drawn to working with these special children and God has given me the ability to see past the disability and see a child or person that has so much to offer. Some of the greatest lessons I have learned in life have been from individuals that can’t necessary walk, talk or even move as I do. I love that everyday we get to work with individuals that have some form of a disability but there families are willing to bring them out into society and come to therapy. Which here in Haiti is a big deal. Together we get to celebrate the small victories as they learn to hold their head up or use their hand again or even for the first time. Often the progress is slow and the challenges are big without the outcomes that some families want to see but together we are learning so much from each other. It is all part of the journey. I do pray there will be a day that people with disabilities here in Haiti will be seen as the people they were created to be, not cursed or outcasts and all will get to experience the love they have to offer.
As always I continue to thank you for all your love, prayers and continued support. It has in a lot of ways been a challenging month but God continues to show me He has an even greater plan for each and every one of us. Blessings!!!!
Sep 15, 2011
Okay time for another update. We have been blessed the last 5 weeks with an OT student Rachelle. Rachelle is originally from Haiti but moved to the states 8 years ago and is now in her second year of OT school. She wanted to come back to Haiti for the summer to visit her family and volunteer. We were able to teach and share therapy techniques with her while she was able to help us with our Creole and teach us more about the Haitian culture that we so desire to learn and understand. So awesome to meet a Haitian that has a love for learning and desire to become a therapist. We really miss her and her smile around the clinic but know she has a bright future ahead of her.
Our stroke program still continues to grow. Rick our rehab RN has started to facilitate weekly stroke prevention classes. We plan to add an exercise component to the classes in time. We continue to see new strokes every month but are getting many within a week of the stroke so it has been fun to watch them progress. We had a pleasant visit from one of our former inpatients Lyciano who was also seen as an outpatient. We remember the day we had to have a discussion with Lyciano about safety and using a walker not knowing if the day would come when he could walk unassisted. Well he surprised us a few weeks ago when he not only walked up without an assistive device, but came driving himself in a stick shift car. He was so proud to tell us he drove here and was wearing of all things a referee shirt. Appropriate given the crazy roads here.
The same day we were celebrating Lyciano’s accomplishments we had another former inpatient return secondary to a second stroke. Simeon is only 40 years old and now has suffered from two strokes. He literally was doing everything that was asked of him taking medications regularly, watching his diet, and exercising but they were still having difficulty controlling his blood pressure. Many days he would get frustrated that he could not do therapy because his blood pressure was too high but we were trying everything that was possible. This is such a problem here. We knew he was at risk for another stroke and there was little we could do. Fortunately we have received a grant that has allowed for a variety of additional hypertension medications. We are glad to report that Simeon returned back to therapy with a great spirit after three weeks of different medications that seem to be controlling his hypertension. His goal is to return to his functional independence pre stroke.
We continue to be a full service rehab clinic willing to do what we can to help our patients return to whatever level of independence that is possible. We have made home visits to stroke patient’s homes to assess needs when it is too difficult to transport them to the clinic. We have been able to help show families how to assist with transfers and daily activities while learning a thing or two ourselves from families about how to adapt things. We have provided leg lifts or supports that have assisted many with walking. My favorite was an 84 y/o old gentleman that came in just asking for a new crutch tip for his beat up crutch that did not even have a handle. We noticed he had a huge leg length discrepancy after a tibial surgery and were able to use old tires (thanks to our prosthetic group) to make him a shoe lift and give him a pair of tennis shoes. When he tried on his new kicks he got a big grin on his face and tossed his crutches aside and took off walking for the first time in over a year without a crutch. Then just this week we got to see Michelle our patient that arrived being pushed in a wheel barrel 5 months ago walk in a walker adapted with a home made bag to port things (Thanks Jeanie) and her own personal cup holder. It takes her a while but she can now go get herself a glass of water and bring it back herself without assist. She was so proud. We even got to see a brief smile on her face.
We ask for your continued prayers and support for the upcoming clinic fundraiser September 30th- Oct 1st in Memphis. As our health and rehab clinics have grown so has the ministries financial needs. Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis has fund the clinic the last 10 years by the 24 hour Tour d Esprit Race/ Auction held every Fall in Memphis. If you would like to check out more about Haiti Medical Missions of Memhis and the Tour d Espirit feel free to check out the new website at www.haitimedicalmissionsofmemphis.org We really believe in this ministry but can’t do it without the faithful support of so many.
God continues to use this ministry to touch our lives and the lives of those we encounter everyday. It certainly has not been without challenges but far more blessings. I continue to thank you all for you love, prayers and support.
Jul 22, 2011
I figure it is about time I give another update on all that has happened since my last post. On Father’s Day I became an aunt once again when Asher James Cottos was born weighing a little over 5lbs. He got off to a rough start having to be placed on a vent and chest tube day 2, but pulled through well and was able to go home by the 4th of July. Chris and Andrea are both very proud first time parents and doing so well with the little man. I hear he is eating like a champ and even learning to take good naps between feedings. Can’t wait to hold him for the first time and not just see him through pictures. Times like that are really when it is difficult being so far from home.
I did recently get to go back to Texas for two weeks for a friends wedding. Got to catch up with a lot of people and enjoy some wonderful food. Nice contrast to the usual rice and beans that have become staples with every meal. It was wonderful to be back at my home church St. Mark’s and to visit everyone. It was also nice to see some of my old patients and co-workers at the hospital. I continue to be overwhelmed by everyone’s love, generosity and support of me and the work that God is doing in Haiti.
Now that I am back things seem busier then ever. We are starting to really work on developing our stroke prevention and education programs. The other day I saw 8 patients and 6 were strokes. There is a definite need for this kind of education. We also currently have three orphanages that we are working with. We have committed to partner with the Haitian rehab techs that are currently working in the orphanages. We are really trying to come along side them and teach them some more therapy techniques and the rationale behind it as they share more with us about their culture and way of life. What an incredible learning experience for all involved.
In my last blog I shared with you about my friend Jon that taught me so much about overcoming the obstacles that are placed in our lives. He had such a beautiful spirit that radiated God’s love and joy into everyone he met. Now I want to introduce you to another one of my friends that also has such an amazing will to survive and love for all those around her. We first met Beetlove in May when she came carried into our clinic by her mom. At the time she was skin and bones. She could not sit up well independently or even talk. Her right arm just hung off her body and her legs were curled up under her and she would scream out in pain at any attempt to try and straighten them. Mom explained to us that Beetlove was a healthy active 13 y/o until she collapsed Easter weekend and needed to be hospitalized. She apparently had a small infection in her foot that went septic throughout her body including into her brain and heart. She had five operations including one to the brain and one to the chest and was in a coma for 8 days before waking up. To survive all that alone in Haiti is nothing short of a miracle. Beetlove spent a month in the hospital doing very little movement until mom decided it was time to take her home since they were not doing enough to get her moving. This was when mom found the clinic and was referred to therapy.
Beetlove’s mom is a single mom with three other children at home but she still managed to bring Beetove everyday to therapy. Every afternoon I would look forward to Beetlove rolling up on a moto side sitting in her mothers lap sandwiched between her mom and the moto driver. Here we see patients that can’t even sit up on the back of a moto (motorcycle) all the time. That is the only way for them to travel without a car because they can’t get on and off of a public tap tap.
Slowly over time Beetlove began to sit up, talk and even was starting to tolerate some supported standing. This little girl who had lay there in such pain with just a blank stare across her face was coming back to life just before our eyes. She would try to dance and even started singing before talking. She is just so motivated especially to walk again. She was sure to learn each of our names and brought each of us a gel bracelet. Most kids here have very little especially of their own so to give each of us one of her bracelets meant so much to us.
Just before I left to fly back to Texas we started to get worried about her left hip. She was starting to have more and more pain and upon assessment her hip appeared to be dislocated. The x-ray confirmed what we had suspected her hip was dislocated and was going to require surgery. Surgery #6 was done the day before I flew back.
She was placed in a cast that started at her chest and goes completely down one leg and half down the other with two large bars across the middle to keep the legs spread. Now imagine having that large of a cast on, unable to bend to sit up, in 100 degree heat with no ac, laying on the dirt floor in a small one room house without electricity for 6 weeks. But there she lay with a smile on her face allowing us to sign her cast and just laugh and joke with her. The Haitian people just blow me away with how resilient they are and there will to overcome. I know for so many it has to do with their faith. We have since taken off the back of a wheelchair and rigged up a frame to support her and her large cast and finally got Beetlove off the floor and outside for the first time in a week. We will continue to check in on her several times a week until we can get her back in therapy.
I once again want to thank everyone for their continued love, prayers and support of this ministry. As you can see we are making a difference in the lives of those we meet as they are often making an even bigger difference in our lives. We have so much to learn from each other when we truly take the time to just be in each other’s presence. God is good!!!! Blessings and Love form Haiti.
Jun 4, 2011
About 6 weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting a young man named Jon. He had come with his mom to our clinic after a dog nearly ripped his right eyelid off. You see Jon was about 13 y/o and had cerebral palsy. Cognitively Jon had no deficits that I could notice but he was trapped in this significantly contracted body that left him with no independent movement other then his ability to smile, chew, speak, drink and turn his head. His arms were stuck in a position up by his head (hence the nickname angel wings), his legs were curled up under him and his back was twisted in ways I could not imagine a person could be twisted. He was defenseless when the dog came for him but was well aware of what was happening. I could not imagine that feeling. The doctors did not think he was going to loose his vision and did what they could to stitch his eyelid back on.
I remember thinking the first time I met Jon that he was a special kid. As I looked at him in his wheelchair with his head hooked on the back of the chair, his eye patched and his incredibly contracted body preventing him from even getting into a somewhat seated position, I could not believe the smile he had on his face. His frail, run down, soft-spoken mom stood next to him with this look of complete desperation and need but there he sat confidently with such a beaming expression on his face. This too Jon had overcome. What a lesson I thought in perseverance and just taking what life throws at you and making the best of it. His smile was just contagious.
The next several weeks we worked hard as a team trying to adapt Jon’s basic wheelchair so he could at least sit upright in a less painful position and his mom could push him without having to tilt the chair back on its back wheels. This proved to not be an easy task when you are trying to support such a contracted and curved body with just foam, wood, duct tape, straps and whatever else we could fine. Jon would patiently lay on the mat for hours while we problem solved occasionally needing to transfer him back and forth from the chair. Occasionally he would state he “was ready to go home” but he always kept that smile on his face and tried anything that was asked of him. We thought we had successfully found a fix to his chair as pictured above but Jon some how found a way to break the thin board we were using to support his legs so we were once again back to the drawing board. He was scheduled to return to the clinic this Monday morning but did not show up. We found this odd since he always came to his appointments. Then Monday afternoon the mom of one of our other patients came in and told us Jon died Sunday. She did not have any more details.
I was completely speechless and shocked to hear my Zanimi (friend) was gone. I praise God that Jon is now free of his contracted body and officially has his angel wings. It does however make me sad to think that no one else here on earth will have the opportunity to meet this young man and be blessed by him as I was. I wish I had the Creole to hear his story in his own words. His smile was contagious and brought such hope and joy into this world. It is so easy to let the trials of this world get you down but Jon was such an example of someone that not only overcame obstacles but made you a better person just by knowing him. Thanks Jon for the blessing you are to so many. May you rest as Jeanie said relaxed with that smile upon your face.
May 3, 2011
Last week started off literally with a bang. We were very blessed no one got hurt when we had a gas explosion in our clinic. The gas fridge where we house all our vaccinations caught fire causing the vaccinations to explode. Fortunately it was not a day that we do vaccinations. Otherwise the room would have been full of women and children and the fridge would have been unlocked which would have easily spread the fire. We had about 100 people in our waiting room at the time that of course ran when they heard the explosion, but again we were very blessed no one was trampled in the process. We lost a couple thousand dollars worth of vaccinations, all our vaccine records and other supplies but in the end everyone chipped in and we were able to get the clinic up and running a day later with no injuries just loss of stuff . God is good and was certainly looking out for us on this day.
Jeannie and I got to make a very special home visit this week to bring one of our “ti mouns” children a bucket seat that we built. Slyder is a little guy ~18mos old that has been coming to therapy for a couple months. He is significantly low toned (floppy) and has difficulty keeping even his head up. He spends most of his time either on his back or being held. He needs to be upright to work on his head control but gets very little practice since he can’t sit on his own and requires so much support. His mom has mentioned on several occasions it is important for Slyder to be able to do more on his own or her uncle that they live with will throw them out since he requires so much care.
Mom has to support the family so she works as a saleswomen at a street vendor and has to leave Slyder with his 8 y/o sister to care for him during the day. This is also very common here to see kids that young as care providers for family members. Mom and sister have done a great job trying to practice activities at home and Slyder is making progress. It was AWESOME to see him sit up in his chair with his head upright taking in his environment. He even very briefly held a homemade rattle in his hand on his own with his head up.
Here in Haiti you have to build or make almost all your adaptive equipment. It is amazing what you can do with a bucket, plywood, duck tape, velcro,, screws and a few straps. In the same day we also were able to help a 37 y/o women that has been sick for some time ~10 years. She came over to us being pushed by family members in a wheel barrel. She was very frail, uncoordinated in her movements and overall weak. To walk she required the assist of two and had very little awareness of where her feet were in space. Her main goal is to be able to walk safely again. We were able to set her up with a wheelchair to replace the wheel barrel and even were able to get her to ambulate very short distances with the support of a walker. We also were able to supply her family with a bath/toilet chair so they no longer have to try and balance her on a bucket to go to the bathroom or bathe her on the ground. We are so thankful for the donations such as toilet chairs and wheelchairs. They truly make a big difference in the lives of those with disabilities and their care providers. Could you imagine as an adult having to be pushed in a wheel barrel or bathed on the ground? I have to give family’s credit they do what they have to care for their loved ones but it is awesome to be able to come along side them and help even if it is in just a small way.
I continue to be blessed by all the beautiful people I am meeting. Every day is a learning experience. We look foreword to watching this ministry grow as we find new ways to come along side our Haitian brothers and sisters and learn from each other.
Apr 19, 2011
A Run in Haiti
The other afternoon Jeanie and I went out on a run as we often do around our neighborhood. We never know what to expect when we go for a run here. Often we come back with a story to tell, because this is one of the ways we get to really experience their culture and life outside the walls of our compound. This run was unlike others. Just as we made a turn off our street we ran into a group of people that were trying to assist this lady who had taken a “tonbe” fall. She was a thin frail middle-aged lady who looked scarred to death in her confused state. She had two large gashes on her forehead and could not stand on her own as her extremities trembled and her eyes just glazed over. The group of people around her stopped us looking for help. In our broken Creole we were able to understand that this lady had taken a fall in the street. No one knew her name and there was no family or anyone around that could identify who she was or where she lived. She appeared to be having a stroke, which is all too common here and instinctively we stated she needed to get to a hospital. Calling an ambulance was not an option. It is a family’s job to get loved ones to the hospital, and as we have learned for some they don’t even have the funds or means to get to the hospital even if they wanted to. In this case no family or friends were around.
Here there is also very little they can do once you have a stroke other then give you medication to try and control your blood pressure. There are no CT’s to try and identify the bleed or anything that can be done if a bleed is discovered but this seemed a better option then out on the street. Fortunately a sister driving by stopped with her car to try and figure out what was going on. As we explained what little we knew she stated she could take her to the hospital. So we loaded this half unconscious lady into the back of the car and one of the total strangers that found her in the street jumped in the car to go with her. As they pulled away so many questions were rolling around in my head. What is the fate of this lady? Could she die at the hospital and her family never even know what happen to her? Why do we see so many strokes here and again that frustration of helplessness? Did we do the right thing sending her across town to the hospital if there is little they can do?
As we continued our run we got our usual shout outs as “blans” questioning are you running for sport? In a place where many lack the nutrition to spend doing such activities as running it is not a sport that is well understood. Why would you be running they wonder but to us this is the very outlet we need to help process all that we are experiencing and release those feelings at times of frustration, confinement and helplessness. As we proceeded back up one of the main streets to our compound we came up on a gentleman that had two large rocks in his hands and made a motion like he was going to throw one directly at Jeanie but then stopped his arm in mid motion. This stopped both of us dead in our tracks as we thought why why would you do that. Jeanie turned to him and stated “pa bon sir” no good. There hands met as he exposed the large rocks. Quickly we realized he was not trying to throw rocks at us but rather throwing them at the large mango tree above us. We both regrettably realized in our high alert state we had mis judged this mans intentions and in that instant he saw how his actions had been interpreted wrong. He then gestured for us to follow him across the street to give us each a large mango. These were the only two mangos we saw he had. Who knows how long he had been chucking rocks up towards the large mango tree to get them. We knew it would be an insult to refuse a gift we also knew how treasured a good mango here can be. We thanked our new friend repeatedly and in the Creole we knew stated happy to meet you. Again on an emotional roller coaster we set back off on our journey home again trying to process what had just happened. We were both reminded that things are not always what they seem. I am so thankful Jeanie had the courage to stop and question this mans intentions. Otherwise we would have never known the truth and once again left wondering why sometimes people do or say the things they do when they see others that look different.
This whole experience continues to teach me so much. Until coming here I had never experienced what it is like to be judged by the color of my skin. On this night we were wrong and mis judged this mans actions, but at other times it has been very clear how some feel about “rich white people” coming to their country. It has been good to see things from a different perspective and reminded how powerful words and actions can be. Fear in the unknown or in what is different can cause us all to react in different ways. I do pray the day will come when we can all see each other as the brothers and sisters we are called to be and not judge each other by the color of our skin or our cultural differences.
Apr 13, 2011
Sorry not sure how time gets away from me here and I realize it has been a while since I have blogged. Sometimes it is hard to find the words to capture all that I am seeing or experiencing but let me give it a whirl. Since last post we have had to let go of one of our rehab techs due to funding issues. No doubt God will open new doors for her but has put others on edge wondering what is to come with the change in funding. We recently got a volunteer kinesiologist and OT from Chile that will be here for a year so that will help. Ultimately our goal is to help train local Haitians to help carry over the work we do, which is difficult with limited resources. Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis does one big fundraiser a year that funds the clinic and rehab. We do not charge for services or medications so we will never be a self-sufficient clinic. As we grow we have more expenses and this has forced our ministry to make some difficult decisions. We are working hard at finding new funding sources.
Such a difficult dilemma where NGO’s provide the bulk of the healthcare, but at times you wonder if they impede the Haitian physicians/healthcare workers that are trying to make a living off their profession when all these NGO’s have volunteers doing the same thing for free. Yet so many can’t pay for services so the local doctors that are trying to make a living only see patients that can pay for services. There are not remotely close to enough Haitian healthcare providers to care for all the sick in Haiti so many would suffer if all the NGO’s up and pulled out. The question is how to make that transition so as a country they are not dependent on NGO’s. Imagine living in a place that had no healthcare system, school’s are limited to only those with money, no public water/waste/ electrical system. Families have to make decisions on who gets to eat at night . It is not that people are not hard working or willing to work the system is just broken and people do what they have to do just to survive.
We have had the opportunity now to get out in some of the tent communities with community agents to look for children that are malnourished or others that could benefit from therapy. What an eye opening experience to see what life is like in a tent community. Often we are met with skeptical stares as to why these “blans” whites are in their community. Usually once they see we are there to help many will flock out of their tents to share their concern to see if they can get a script to come to the clinic. On our last trip we saw lots of kiddos with ring worm, distended bellies, and others with the signs of malnourishment. We were able to write them scripts for rendezvous (appts) in the clinic. Still looking for the little ones that would benefit from therapy, but often they are the ones hidden back in the tents since it is harder for them to get out and play. My personal favorite was this little 3 year old boy that was completely buck naked sporting his candy necklace. Before we left we had a group of kids that joined Jeanie and I in a game of soccer with a soda bottle. Got to give them points for creativity. Kids will find a way to play with what they have.
Things in the clinic continue to fluctuate. We have crazy packed days and others that are a bit slower. Got to fit our first little kiddo with a custom wheelchair adapted with foam, duck tape, straps and a bio hazardous bag to make the foam cushion pee proof. It is a fun challenge to try and make the resources we have work.
We have also been working hard on getting our stroke populations BP’s under control so we can exercise. Since we have started taking BP’s every time they come in we have realized many have BP’s 210/118 or even higher. We are working hard with the docs on educating on the importance of taking meds regularly so they can have an active life post stroke. We are also working on starting stroke prevention program and then having a support like group for those that are post stroke. At times Jeanie and I are like drill sergeants getting after them about meds but we are bound and determine we can help make an impact on this growing population. Probably 1 in 5 of our patients are post stroke and half of those are in there 40’s. Kind of cool the other day we had a current patient bring a friend that was several days post stroke. He knew we work with stroke patients and wanted to get him help quickly so he just brought him to the clinic. We sent him back to his doctor who sent a referral and now we have another connection outside our clinic for referrals. Let the networking begin.
The other big news is a group from Spain has started a prosthetic factory on the compound. We hope to partner with them to make it easier to get our patients prosthetics since they can be measured, molded and fitted there. We then can do the follow up therapy necessary to get them up and going. They have hired a former inpatient of ours that also lost his leg and has gone through the therapy. They are teaching him how to adjust and make prosthesis so he can in turn help others to walk again. We got to see a 10 year old boy the other day take his first steps with his new leg post earthquake. All three of his brothers were killed in the earthquake. His dad stood there with tears in his eyes as he watched his son take his first steps, it was a neat moment to be a part of. We hear stories time and time again about that day. It was a day that impacted everyone and everyone has a story to tell. In time I hope I can hear more stories and more importantly see the healing process continue in the many that have suffered a loss.
I continue to thank you for all your love, prayers and support. I recently had a wonderful trip home to Virginia to see my family for a week. I truly feel blessed to be where I am. God is certainly opening my eyes and my heart as I learn to fully trust in His plan.