Healing Haiti via Flagstaff
VIA THE ARIZONA DAILY SUN
OCTOBER 04, 2015 5:00 AM
SUN STAFF REPORTER
Sitting on the couch in his Flagstaff home Tuesday night, Dr. John “Bull” Durham clicked through a series of before-and-after photos that would make some people cringe.
One set of images showed a police officer with a gaping gash in his lower leg and a broken tibia. Another showed X-rays from a young woman who had shattered her clavicle, femur and forearm.
But thanks to the work of Durham and a team of Haitian orthopedic residents, both injuries were repaired and healed within a few months time.
What made the photos so remarkable was that the December surgeries took place at Bernard Mews Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where almost six years ago a 7.0-magnitude earthquake brought the country’s already weak medical system to its knees.
Durham has been one of those dedicated to putting that system back together.
After years of providing orthopedic care at trauma centers and hospitals in Haiti, Durham’s latest effort to improve the country’s medical services has involved training and educating its doctors. To that end, Durham hosted an orthopedic resident from Haiti for the past eight weeks as the resident shadows and learns from different orthopedic surgeons in Flagstaff.
Making the shift from simply providing medical care to teaching Haitians how to provide that care puts the system on a path to becoming self-supporting in the long term, Durham said.
“So it’s not just providing care, but doing it so it becomes a learning exercise that improves the quality of care not just for the person being treated but for all the others these doctors treat in their lifetimes,” he said. “It’s the whole adage of teaching someone how to fish as opposed to bringing them fish.”
Falling in love with Haiti
Durham, a longtime orthopedic surgeon in Flagstaff, has made 18 trips to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, spending hundreds of hours doing disaster relief work and, more recently, providing medical training, equipment and guidance for more complex surgical procedures. Since 2010, his work has focused on Bernard Mews Hospital in the country’s capital where he has been helping build an orthopedic trauma program and bringing teams of physicians and other healthcare providers about two times per year.
He’s among more than 250 volunteers from Flagstaff who have traveled to Haiti since the earthquake to help with local construction projects, provide medical services and lend support to two local orphanages. The efforts are all connected to the Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps, a group formed in 1995 that has sent volunteers all over the world but has focused on Haiti since the earthquake. Two years ago, their efforts had put Flagstaff among the top sources of volunteers to the Caribbean country.
Haiti has captured his heart and the heart of many others, Durham said.
“I love it down there,” said Durham, who has an adopted daughter from Haiti and is hosting two other young Haitian women as they attend Northern Arizona University. “It’s like anything else in life, it’s the connection with the people. That’s what made people want to raise money for Haiti and it’s what takes people back there.”
Teaching a man to fish
It was during one of his trips to Haiti last October that Durham met Jean Hippolyte at Port au Prince’s General Hospital. The 34-year-old was among a handful of residents at the hospital that Durham had invited to work on surgical cases with him at Bernard Mews. Three months later, during another trip to Haiti, Durham invited Hippolyte to come to Flagstaff.
In his eight weeks here, which began at the beginning of August, Hippolyte has worked with 10 different orthopedic surgeons doing trauma cases at Flagstaff Medical Center.
“It’s an opportunity to learn how different people approach the same problem,” Durham said.
The experience also served to fulfill the final portion of Hippolyte’s medical residency. On Friday, he officially became an orthopedic doctor.
Hippolyte said he decided to become an orthopedic doctor after the 2010 earthquake when he was working in an emergency treatment center and saw patient after patient come in with fractures and other trauma. Not only was the need great, but the number of orthopedic doctors in the country is few. At the time that Hippolyte started his orthopedic training, there were just 27 orthopedic doctors in the entire country, he said.
Since he arrived in Flagstaff, Hippolyte said he has learned about new techniques and various sub-specialties of doctors here.
Durham said Hippolyte has taught Flagstaff’s doctors as well.
“I learn from him as much as he learns from us,” Durham said. “It's the cultural experience of getting to know someone in Haiti who experienced the earthquake in the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere and yet to rise above that and become an orthopedic surgeon is really neat. It’s something to learn from.”
Durham said this was the first time that Flagstaff Medical Center has hosted an orthopedic resident from another country in the 25 years he has been with the hospital. It’s a program that he would like to continue if he can work through logistical difficulties and find a sustainable funding source.
For his next step, Hippolyte is pursuing a fellowship in Canada. But he makes it very clear that his final plan is to return to his country and serve patients there.
“I want to stay in Haiti because I know the people in Haiti need me,” he said.