OTTUMWA — The health care professionals went to Haiti to change lives. The surprise was how much their own lives changed.
"It certainly changes one's perspective," said Dr. Ted Haas of Ottumwa. "You wouldn't go if you didn't feel you were making a difference. But we changed, too."
A nine-person team from Ottumwa Regional Health Center went to Haiti as part of a medical mission. Parent company RegionalCare Hospital Partners is committed, Haas believes, to taking on a project to help people. They've teamed up with a group called Live Beyond, which has been sending a group of medical providers to the earthquake-devastated country for one week each month. Various groups have adopted part of the island to serve. Live Beyond is stationed about an hour from the nation's capital, in the village of Thomazeau.
"There was devastation everywhere. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. There's no regular drinkable water, there's no power grid for electricity. You have to have your own generator. There aren't any hotels. It is very poor. The majority of the people live in one-room huts with a dirt or mud floor," Haas said.
Haiti was partially like that before the earthquake, too, he added. People were barely surviving.
"This has been going on for years and years, and that's what made them so vulnerable [to a disaster]," he said.
Long-term planning, like for hospitals, schools and even jobs, gets pushed aside for more immediate needs.
"The people there, their goal is to get enough to eat to survive the day. To feed the family today," Haas said.
RegionalCare has a team going in July from an Ohio hospital. Live Beyond is trying to create a more constant presence. Haas said they're going to build a small hospital, and RegionalCare will provide all the equipment from the surplus collected from their eight hospitals.
So this older equipment might be better than what they had in Haiti already?
"It would have to be," said Haas, "because they didn't have anything."
The nation does have one treasure that Haas and the team were impressed by: the Haitian people. They lead hard lives, and it's hard to be cheerful when you're always hungry, Haas said. Not once did Haas feel unsafe.
"The people would smile and were very gratified that someone would come to help them. We did basic medical care for 150 people a day," he said. "I am very glad I went; all nine of us said that. I am so proud of our team, because we accomplished so much. Everyone worked very hard. When we arrived in Iowa Friday, we were hot and tired and worn out — but very gratified."
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.