Haiti: Survivors and hospital staff recall quake aftermath at special worship service


January 13, 2011 – Port-au-Prince, Haiti…Libna Stevens/IAD

While the rest of the country paid respect to the dead yesterday, the first anniversary of a powerful earthquake that killed more than 300,000, Seventh-day Adventists gathered in hundreds of churches to remember the slain and praise God for life and the blessings since that day.

It was also a day set out by church leaders to celebrate one of its proudest institutions, the Hopital Adventiste d’Haiti (Haiti Adventist Hospital or HAH) in Diquini, which continues to make an impact in the community one year after the earthquake.

“We are a people of hope, and we continue to celebrate life and how God continues to preserve our lives,” said Theart Saint Pierre, president of the church in Haiti as he addressed hundreds gathered on the hospital grounds for a commemorative service.

Saint Pierre praised the work of the Hospital staff for being instrumental in saving lives and treating the scores of wounded people who flooded the hospital after the quake. It was day five of such church-led ceremonies, which began on Jan. 8 in the central and south regions of Port-au-Prince, where nearly 600 church members lost their lives and more than 100 churches were destroyed or damaged.

Earlier this week, a commemorative service was also held at the Adventist University, where some 400 families still take shelter on campus and classrooms are still being held out in temporary buildings.

Dr. Lesly Archer, then medical director of the Adventist hospital, recounted the minutes after the facility was shaken. He said he spent many sleepless nights in the weeks that followed as he and his staff performed surgeries in makeshift operating rooms outdoors, treated injuries and coordinated the influx of medical teams and medical supplies that came in.

“It was such a traumatic situation to work hard to save lives with the short staff hours after the Jan. 12 earthquake and to organize a functioning hospital outdoors,” said Dr. Archer. “I have never been through such an intense experience, with such lows, as well as the highs of seeing patients restored to health.” Dr. Archer went on to express how proud he was of the fact that free medical services were given to hundreds and thousands of people. He was also thankful to the organizations that donated human resources and supplies to the hospital.

Leaders said that the Adventist Hospital was one of the very few in Haiti which sustained minor damage, thanks to the work of the architects and engineers who designed and built the facility which opened in 1978.

“We have been able to serve a community of nearly 600,000 people with our services here,” said Dr. Yolande Simeon, medical director of the hospital. “From our humble beginnings as a clinic in the late 1970s, today we have two operating rooms, 70 beds, ophthalmology and orthopedic services as well as gynecological services, and other services,” she added.

Church leaders from the Inter-American Division (IAD) also attended the ceremony and shared encouraging words with the crowd.

“Today the entire world remembers the earthquake in Haiti,” said Dr. Elie Henry, executive secretary of the church in Inter-America. “The world showed solidarity for Haiti, the world cried with Haiti and demonstrated this in 2010 with their outpouring of gifts and we acknowledge that.”

“The [Adventist] world church and members around the world united with Haiti from the first moments after the quake,” continued Dr. Henry, who is from Haiti. “We thank the Adventist World Church for their funds, the solidarity and gifts which came from Europe, Africa, North America, the containers from ADRA Puerto Rico and ADRA Dominican Republic, all the unions from Inter-America, and even to our Adventist rescue team from Colombia which flew to aid victims trapped in the rubble hours after the quake.”

Dr. Henry, who was in Haiti visiting his father when the earthquake hit, said he had to sleep “under the stars” in the aftermath.

“Having gone through this experience, for me there is a before and after the earthquake,” said Dr. Henry. “Our eyes have been opened to a reality that we had not clearly seen before and it is that God is alive, He reigns, and that we need to remember that He has preserved us so that we can continue trusting and serving Him. I do not know why God chose some to rest, but I’m certain that God does not forget any of His children.”

Church and hospital administrators also recognized the dozens of organizations and medical teams who treated hundreds of patients during the days, weeks, and months following the disaster.

Dr. Elie Honore, president of the Adventist Health International Services for Inter-America overseeing hospitals, echoed the words of gratitude to the many institutions and organizations which contributed and volunteered in assisting Haiti Adventist Hospital.

“We are so grateful to AHIS and Loma Linda University for their presence and their continued support, before and specially after the earthquake. We also remember all the non-government organizations who came to our aid,” said Honore. “

Thanks to the response and additional partners, the hospital is planning to expand its facilities with additional operating rooms and services during the year ahead.

Already, the hospital has two small facilities recently built that will functioning as a prosthetic rehabilitation center for more than thousands in need, and a prosthesis laboratory that make the prosthetics in-house for patients next month, stated Hospital Administrator Emilie Clotaire.

“Hopital Adventiste d’Haiti was at the heart of the tragedy…God only knows the meaning of the work of saving lives,” said Clotaire. She reported that some 20,000 patients were treated from January 12 to the end of September 2010 and over 4,000 surgeries were performed.

Among those benefitted by the hospital services was Iney Laguerre from Diquini, a high school teacher and church elder who lost a leg after a column in his classroom collapsed on him during the quake. After being rejected by five hospitals near his school, he was brought to the Adventist Hospital where he underwent two surgeries to amputate his left leg and two fingers on his right hand.

“The Lord has been good to me, and I’ve learned that He gives us the strength and capabilities to move forward,” Laguerre said. Laguerre, who spent three months living in a small tent on hospital grounds, said he is thankful for his new leg. He now uses a small walker and is back to teaching full time. He continues to bring comfort to everyone he meets.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “If God allows you to be in a difficult situation, He will help you out of that because He has a plan for you.”

Nine-year-old second grader Sebastien Lamorthe, who lost his right leg, also spoke briefly to the crowd.

“I was trapped in my house for three days before I was able to be rescued,” he said, able to stand thanks to his prosthetic leg and crutches. “My mom and grandma died there in the house and I’m thankful that I can walk again.” He now lives with his aunt and is among the patients who will undergo rehabilitation at HAH.

Marie Lourdes Destina, a nurse employed at HAH for more than 29 years, shared her experience as well. She told of her survival on that warm day last January.

“If God hand not helped me and I would not have been treated here, I would not be here today,” said Destina. Her skull was cracked when a wall fell on her head. The rest of her body was badly bruised and scraped. Neighbors pulled her from the rubble and brought her to HAH where she underwent surgery. She returned to work a little over a month after, but later suffered a stroke due to her head injury. Although she needs some guidance to help her keep her balance as she walks, she is thankful to the doctors and medical staff who have treated her and supported her through her ordeal.

“Through others, God has taken care of me,” Destina added as she shared that she is learning how to write again. “Study and meditate in God’s Word and trust Him, because He’ll see you through.”

The program also included spiritual messages, music, scripture reading, prayers, additional testimonials from medical staff and former patients, and a photographic exhibit of hospital services in the weeks and months throughout 2010.

In closing, Pastor St. Pierre offered words of encouragement.

“We have all been marked through this tragedy, we have learned that life is fragile and life is brief and that God is faithful and is with us every day until the end of the world,” he said

At 4:53 p.m., the time when the earthquake took place, the gathering sang a song and a special prayer of dedication was offered.

Church leaders will continue to hold special commemorative programs at union offices and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency for Haiti in the coming days.

For updates on Haiti, a year after the earthquake, visit www.interamerica.org

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