Thoughts on a Tragedy

Thoughts on a Tragedy

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:

Like two crowns of thorns
On top of five dry corpses
In final sleep, lay Alexandra and Stephanie
In the barbaric cave for the dead
Known in Creole as simply “mog”
My trembling hand blesses them
May the angels lead you far, far from here
And do so in all haste
You and this throng of dead that surround you

From “Crown of Thorns”by Fr. Rick Frechette, Port au Prince

Thank you, dear friends, for your great kindness. The massive earthquake that rocked Port au Prince, Haiti, hit Terry and me like a death in the family, and so many of you responded as such. We received scores of wonderful calls and e-mails from friends, relatives, and colleagues we hadn’t heard from in years.

Everyone was concerned that we may have been down in Haiti at the time. We indeed were not in Haiti, but we will return this November. So during the reading of this article, when you hear me say “we” or “us”, I am just speaking as a proud member of Haiti Outreach and the CRUDEM Foundation. I am reminded of Fr.Segundo, a Jesuit priest in El Salvador, who wasn’t at home when rebels broke in and killed his two associates and their two housekeepers. Years later, while speaking at Creighton University, he was asked how he felt about not being with his friends when they were killed. He answered: “I wasn’t chosen for that grace.”

My very best friend (after Terry) was chosen for that grace. Deacon Jim Kirzeder is a contractor from Crosby;he has spent the last twenty years or so toiling to make life livable for the Haitian people. Jim was on the first available plane down to Haiti after the earthquake. He met up with our man in Haiti, Neil Van Dine, in the Dominican Republic and proceeded to Port au Prince. Jim returned home for a week, then returned to Haiti, and will soon return for his third trip. I will share his insights with you.

Eyewitness to History
“First of all,” Jim told me, “what we have seen on television pales in comparison to the actual situation. The ocean town of Jacmel just outside of Port was 70% destroyed; the town of Leogane, at the epicenter, was totally destroyed. “More than ten percent of the population of Port au Prince and almost three percent of the population of Haiti was killed in the earthquake. Fourteen thousand people per hour were fleeing the city looking to return to their ancestral homes in the country.”

Jim and Neil fought their way to the main general hospital. There were more than a thousand bodies piled outside the hospital waiting for front loaders to carry them away to mass graves. The sewage canals of the city were flowing red with blood. Amputated limbs were stacked in piles outside the hospital. Surgery was being done in the hospital courtyard due to lack of electricity to the operating rooms and for fear of aftershocks. A beleaguered doctor met Jim and Neil saying, “Why are you here, and what can you do?” Our guys explained “what they do”, and the doctor replied, “If you can’t get us electric power to our operating rooms, five hundred people will die tonight.”

Jim said he and Neil set about shorting this, bypassing that, and jerry-rigging the other, until finally they had restored power to the operating rooms. Jim said he pities the poor electrician who will try to figure out the situation when time comes to restore the hospital. I reminded him how he went through the same thing years ago when our crew rewired our hospital in Milot.

The thing that Jim said will stay with him forever is the stench of death. So many bodies were buried under tons of concrete with no equipment to free them. In the hot weather of Haiti, a body will start to stink after about a day or so. Jim told me about a group of American kids who were buried in the rubble of a building where they were doing missionary work. There was no equipment to dig them out. The smell of death didn’t start for fourteen days. They must have been alive for almost two weeks until freed by death.

One of the most amazing sights seen by our guys took place at the ruins of the presidential palace. President Rene Preval had ordered all flags to be flown at half staff. In the morning fog, Jim and Neil saw five Haitian policemen struggling to lift the bent flag pole in front of the palace. It looked for all the world like the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. They eventually raised the flag to half staff.

One of the main missions of our NGO (Non-Government Organization) Haiti Outreach is to drill wells and cap springs to provide water to this thirsty nation. Water trucks are a vital part of this effort. “Immediately after the earthquake,” Jim told me, “we began making daily trips to Port au Prince with our water trucks to deliver fresh water to the survivors. Sadly, on one such trip, due to the treacherousness of the roads, one of our best Haitian drivers went off the road and over a cliff, plunging to his death. He leaves behind a young family and several relatives who were staying with him as refugees from the quake.”

On a much brighter note, “Le Hopital du Sacre Coeur, our hospital in Milot, Haiti, was untouched by the earthquake, and immediately sprang into action. Our facility was inspected by the French Government field hospital, and by the US Navy. They were very impressed with our capabilities and immediately began sending us victims from Port.

Typically we have about 170 volunteers per year, but since the earthquake, 250 have showed up to help, and there will be at least 50 a week for the next two months. “The hospital normally has room for about 70 patients, but has expanded through the formation of an instant ‘tent hospital’ to a census of more than four hundred. We have had many donations from individuals, companies, and non-profits such as Americares and Project Hope.

A landing area was set up on the soccer field so that the US Navy helicopters could land with victims from Port and also those who were treated on the Hospital Ship Comfort and sent to us for recuperation.

It is estimated that there have been more than two hundred thousand amputations as a result of the quake. Many of the victims have arrived at Milot. The little kids seem to adjust the best, especially the little girls. In fact, they were doing so well adapting to their crutches that one day the nurses staged an impromptu “parade” of the kids through the adult wards so that the older amputees would stop feeling sorry for themselves and get on with life.

“The Hopital du Sacre Coeur and our parent organization, the CRUDEM Foundation, has proven to be the best equipped and staffed hospital in all of Haiti,” reported Dr. Peter Kelly, head of the CRUDEM foundation. “But just when things seemed to be slowing down, a mudslide in nearby Cap Haitian buried a school and several hundred children. Thank God we had the teams and facilities ready to help.

“Then a group sponsored by the German government came upon a newborn baby with hydrocephaly. They asked if we could help. We just happened to have a pediatric neurosurgeon on hand, who put in a shunt. The German government was so grateful that they loaned us the use of one of their helicopters for fifty hours flying time, just what we needed to return the recovering patients to Port and pick up new ones in need of rehab.

“If any good has come from this terrible tragedy, it is the recognition of this great hospital, its Haitian staff, and our volunteers as the best facility now in existence in Haiti. The CRUDEM foundation now sees the need for a great expansion of our facilities. With that, God willing, will come an expansion of our dental clinic.”

Dr. Kelly has asked me to brainstorm some ideas for a new clinic. We hope to move from our present one-chair operatory to a freestanding building with two full-service operatories and two hygiene rooms. This would allow all of you who have expressed an interest in serving in Haiti to do so! Now all we need are the donations to make it happen. Interested parties may check out our websites: and www. You can also go to You Tube and look up videos on Milot and Haiti Out Reach.

Thank you all for your prayers and concern for the people of Haiti.


*Dr. Stein is the Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota.

MDA members and readers of this journal in particular have followed Dr. Stein’s commitment to the outreach and dental mission in Haiti over decades of work there, for which he has received the Association’s Humanitarian Service Award. He would be the first to tell you that the recognition was very nice, but the work is what matters. And the work continues.