Local nurse aids Haitian quake victims (2/11/10)

Feb. 11, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Within her first few minutes at a hospital on the Haitian border, Williston nurse Mindy Pariser knew she was in for a long and difficult week. Hundreds of victims of January’s massive earthquake, complaining of painful injuries, filled hospital rooms. Many had been pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings, suffering from broken arms, legs and ribs — a desperate situation, Pariser said.


    Courtesy photo by Mindy Pariser
Health care workers at a facility in Jimani, Dominican Republic transport an injured patient to a U.S. Navy helicopter so the patient can be flown to a better-equipped hospital. Williston nurse Mindy Pariser worked for a week on the Haitian border, aiding victims of January’s massive earthquake.


    Courtesy photo by Mindy Pariser
An unfinished room at a hospital in Jimani, Dominican Republic serves as a makeshift triage and emergency department for victims of Haiti’s earthquake. Williston resident Mindy Pariser spent much of her time helping patients in this room. For more pictures, click on 'Web Exclusive Photos.'

While she missed her husband and 2-year-old daughter at home in Williston, Pariser knew she needed to help survivors of the natural disaster.

“When I saw the devastation on TV, it really, really upset me,” said Pariser, a nurse at Fletcher Allen Health Care. “I was wishing I could be there.”

On Jan. 12, a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people, according to Haitian government estimates. The quake and its aftershocks devastated the southern part of the country, which is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The disaster displaced upwards of 2 million people, many of whom headed toward the border with the Dominican Republic seeking help.

As part of a rotating team of Vermont doctors, nurses and paramedics, Pariser headed to the Caribbean Sea last week and volunteered her time to help the victims. She said volunteers came from all over the state as part of the Vermont Haiti Relief Team. The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals, a union at Fletcher Allen, sponsored the trip.

The team flew into the Dominican Republic — Haiti’s neighbor on the island of Hispaniola — and worked at a hospital in a border area called Jimani. The rural town is only a few miles from the Haitian border.

When the earthquake hit, survivors streamed across the border toward Jimani, Pariser said. A new hospital existed in the town, even though it hadn’t officially opened when the earthquake hit.

“They were just trying to find the nearest hospital,” she said.

According to Pariser, a Tennessee couple built the hospital as a place for Dominicans to receive eye care.

After traveling all day from Vermont and landing on the Caribbean island on Jan. 27, Pariser immediately went to work on a 12-hour night shift. It would be her schedule until she returned to Vermont on Feb. 3.

“There were a lot of people at this hospital and very little resources,” Pariser said. “But everything was surprisingly orderly and the patients were all amazing and beautiful people.”

She estimates about 90 percent of her patients suffered broken bones and other injuries associated with falling debris. By helping set bones and delivering pain medications, she aided countless Haitians during the crisis. She said the injured rarely complained of pain, but sometimes quietly asked for medication because they could not sleep. One woman remained brave in the face of life-altering surgery.

“Due to her injuries, (my patient) had both of her feet partially amputated, but she remained a very brave woman throughout,” Pariser said.

Pariser also treated many children suffering from dehydration. Patients arrived at the hospital having gone days without food or water. The children suffered most, and Pariser hooked up
IVs to stave off the worst effects of dehydration.

Her patients also told horrific stories of the earthquake. One woman lost many family members, including her 3-year-old child, when their home collapsed, Pariser said. With a young daughter back home, the story particularly affected Pariser.

After an exhausting trip, Pariser is back at work at Fletcher Allen. While she’s happy to be home, she misses her patients and wonders what will happen to them when they return to Haiti.

“It’s been harder for me being back than I thought it would be,” she said.

Members of the Vermont Haiti Relief Team will continue traveling to Jimani for the next two months, although Pariser said her trip to Haiti will be all she can manage. She said it was a life-altering experience and she hopes people will continue to think of the Haitians long after the earthquake fades from the news.

“The Haitian people are going to need a lot of help and care for a long time to come,” she said.